Small Injuries Can Result in Pervasive, Chronic Pain

There is no such thing as a “good” injury. We never want to experience any type of trauma, disease, or dysfunction with our bodies. Of course, injuries do happen, and often we feel fortunate when the damage seems minimal. But what happens when the healing process goes haywire? What happens when the pain spreads and becomes worse? These are the devastating effects suffered by victims of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

CRPS, also known as Reflex Sympathetic Distrophy, is an elusive but often debilitating disorder in which the patient experiences continuous, intense pain seemingly out of proportion to any initiating event. Key symptoms include chronic burning pain, allodynia, hyperalgesia, edema, and changes in superficial blood flow and skin color. The originating cause may be a nerve injury, but the CRPS pain may extend beyond the distribution of injured nerve. For example, a damaged nerve in one’s wrist could give rise to CRPS pain throughout one’s entire arm.

There is no known cure for CRPS. Medical treatment is currently limited to alleviating these life-altering symptoms to the greatest extent possible. Treatment could include any combination of topical analgesics, corticosteroids, or opioids. Physical therapy, sympathetic nerve block injections, and spinal cord stimulation may also be used to help reduce pain and increase the tolerable range of motion. None of these methods, however, has produced true long-lasting improvement for victims of CRPS.

Because CRPS pain seems to be out of proportion with any initiating cause and involves several interrelated conditions, many doctors struggle to make a proper diagnosis. Often accident victims will experience intractable, chronic pain, only to be met with skepticism from their treaters and insurance companies. This unfortunate scenario is far too common, and it makes the road to recovery all the more difficult.

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