RSD / CRPS What is it?

RSD is short for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy which is also known as CRPS or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. RSD/CRPS is a chronic pain condition that some feel is the result of the nervous system malfunctioning while others feel it is the result of the triggering of an immune system response. Which part of the nervous system malfunctions is not for sure. Some believe it could be the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, or a combination of them both.

Most people with RSD seemed to have had a minor injury that affected an arm or leg, a hand or a foot. The pain experienced from RSD / CRPS is much more intense than the pain you would expect to feel, making it seem way out of proportion to the injury.  There are however, some people who have gotten RSD/CRPS with no apparent injury to the affected limb and although it is very rare, there have been some occurrences after surgeries.  I know that the pain I experienced after I dropped the pallet on my left foot was way more intense than it should have been and as time went on it got worse.

chronic pain and rsd is like a broken recordIt felt like my body was stuck in the same response pattern, similar to a record with a skip in it that keeps playing the same part of the song. I dropped something on my foot, ouch it hurt and I felt a stabbing sharp pain.  Then my body told me to move my left foot so the muscles in my left leg contracted, then my foot was bleeding so my body decreased the blood flow. With less blood flow it made my leg and foot feel cold and then it started swelling.  The contraction of the muscles in my leg were so tight it was hard for me to initiate movement or complete movements.  My foot would often stick when I walked. This cycle kept repeating itself over and over again, I could feel it. I believe RSD is our body repeating these exaggerated responses.  This repetitiveness is very frustrating, very painful, and very stressful.  A body under continual stress in a heightened fight or flight response leads to extra pressure on our all our body systems including our immune system.

Lets look at how amazing the body really is. For example, when we injure our arm, a pain signal is sent to our brain alerting it that something is wrong. This initial pain signal can vary depending on the type of injury that has occurred to your arm. The pain signal being sent can be mild, sharp, stabbing, shooting, burning or a combination of these signals. The body then quickly assesses the damage and if we cut ourselves the body monitors the blood flow going to the arm, then the body will restrict and/or contract the muscles to the arm so we can move the arm out of harm’s way. Our heart beats faster, our breath is quicker, some of us may start sweating, while others may shiver. All of these responses by the body occur in a matter of seconds and I feel in the case of RSD / CRPS seem to keep on  occurring long after the initial injury heals.

Experts say RSD was first noticed during the civil war when it was called causalgia.  Now RSD / CRPS is classified as Type I or Type II. Type one is often the result of tissue injury with no nerve damage or injury while Type II is clearly associated with a nerve injury or damage. Both Type I and II have the same symptoms.  RSD affects both men and women, yet women are more likely to get it.

It is important if you have RSD / CRPS or any of the following symptoms to get diagnosed quickly.  RSD seems to occur in stages, each stage is worse than the previous stage, so the sooner you are diagnosed the better. If you or anyone you know has the following symptoms, or feel your pain or symptoms seem exaggerated, ask your doctor if you could have RSD / CRPS.

  • Pain more intense than what should occur with an injury.
  • Burning Pain.
  • Changes in skin temperature, skin color, or skin texture.
  • Changes in nail and hair growth on the limb with the initial injury.
  • Swelling and stiffness in the injured area.
  • Decreased ability to move the injured area.