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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: what triggers it?

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a condition which causes people to feel an unexplained, burning-type pain in part or parts of the body. Although the condition usually develops after some kind of physical trauma, the location of the injury and the location of the pain are not necessarily the same. What’s more, once CRPS flares symptoms can worsen and the pain can spread to other areas of the body.

CRPS was first identified in Civil War veterans who still felt pain at the site of their wounds, even after they were healed. First termed “causalgia,” residual unexplained pain at the site of an old injury is now called Type II CRPS. Another form of this syndrome, Type I CRPS, was formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), and is caused by an indirect traumatic injury, such as surgery, car accident, etc.

However, CRPS can be triggered by minor injuries as well. The current thinking is that CRPS is the result of a disruption of the healing process—the brain alerts the body to an injury, but for some reason does not receive feedback that the injury is healed. Instead, the brain continues to amp up its warning of “something is wrong” to the body in the form of increased pain sensations.

CRPS is also associated with symptoms other than pain. It can change the appearance of the skin to white, mottled, or red; and cause swelling, chills, stiffness and tremors.

There is no cure for CRPS, but in some cases symptoms improve or even disappear over time. People with this disorder can also be made more comfortable through a combination of medication and physical therapy. Pain medications, anticonvulsants, and antihypertensive medications may be prescribed, and injections that block nerves associated with the pain can help alleviate symptoms. Antidepressants can help too, not because CRPS is a psychosomatic illness, but because people in chronic pain often suffer from depression.

However, there is no one treatment that is successful for all CRPS patients. There is also no way to test for the disorder. It is diagnosed simply by ruling out other possibilities—a process that can be frustrating to say the least. Most CRPS patients see about 5 physicians before their condition is ever diagnosed.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

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Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

Disability lawyer fee - what does an attorney cost?
Social Security Disability appeal status
The status of your social security disability or SSI case
Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI tips
Maximum SSDI SSI Disability back pay
SSI disability back pay
How Far Back Will Social Security Pay Benefits?
What if the SSDI Disability application gets denied?
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions
When You File an SSI or Social Security Disability Application
After you file and apply for disability
Applying for disability, the application process
Tips for how to get approved for SSDI or SSI
Social Security Disability SSDI SSI Tips
Proving Social Security Disability for a mental condition
SSDI SSI Eligibility Requirements and Criteria
Qualifying for disability benefits (SSDI or SSI)
How does a person qualify for SSDI or SSI disability, how are they eligible?