Symptoms and Treatment of RSD

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RSD Symptoms and Treatment Lawyer Austin

The causes of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, commonly referred to as Common Reflex Pain Syndrome (CRPS), are not yet known.  It is believed that the damaged nerves send signals to the brain that interfere with normal information about sensation, temperature and blood flow.   Anecdotal evidence suggests that early treatment is helpful in limiting the length and severity of CRPS, but there are no clinical studies as yet to back up that hypothesis.

In addition, there are no comprehensive diagnostic tests to determine the presence of CRPS.  It is incumbent on the physician to assess the subjective complaints of the patient along with documenting the objective findings of the injury to reach a diagnosis of CRPS.

Symptoms will often include burning pain, extreme swelling, increased sweating, muscle spasms, softening of the bones, joint tenderness and stiffness, difficulty with movement and changes in the nails and skin. CRPS will often start in an arm or a leg and then spread throughout the entire body.  One very visible sign of CRPS is warm, shiny red skin that later turns cool and bluish in color.

There are two types of CRPS: Type I and Type II; both have similar symptoms but have differing outcomes.


CRPS Type I (CRPS I) often occurs after an illness or injury that did not directly damage the nerves.  CRPS I is characterized by severe, burning pain accompanied by changes in the bone and skin.  Additionally, sweating, swelling and extreme sensitivity to touch are present.  Moving or touching the affected areas is often intolerable, and eventually the joints will stiffen from lack of use, and the muscles and bone will atrophy.  Some or all of these symptoms can migrate to other parts of the body.


CRPS Type II, often called Causalgia, is characterized by extreme pain in response to an actual peripheral nerve injury.  It is characterized by many of the symptoms of CRPS I including severe, burning pain, but it does not migrate from the site of injury like CRPS I does.  The direct cause of CRPS II is an injury or trauma to a large nerve. This injury or trauma can be a minor cut or as extreme as a gunshot wound – the level of injury does not seem to play a part in the development of symptoms related to CRPS II.


There are a number of therapies available for the treatment of both types of CRPS although most are palliative in nature.  The recommended treatments are:

  • Rehabilitation therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Sympathetic Nerve Blocks
  • Surgical Sympathectomy
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • Other types of neural stimulation
  • Intrathecal drug pumps.

There are also a number of alternative therapies that have been used to treat CRPS with meaningful results, including:

  • Behavior modification
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Biofeedback
  • Progressive muscle relaxation techniques
  • Guided motion therapy
  • Chiropractic treatment

Lastly, there are some emerging treatments available for the treatment of CRPS that show promise, including:

  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG)
  • Ketamine
  • Hyperbaric oxygen chambers