What is the medical treatment for complex regional pain syndrome type 1 (CRPS 1) (RSD)?

Updated: Mar 09, 2021
  • Author: T P Sudha Rao, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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The natural history of type 1 CRPS is variable and unpredictable, the pathogenesis is unknown, and few controlled treatment trials exist. Thus, published recommendations rely heavily on expert opinion, and the approach depends largely on the specialty of the treating physician. Even if a disturbance in sympathetic nervous system function is important in the development of the clinical syndrome, not all patients respond to sympatholytic medications or to chemical or surgical sympathectomy.

Clinical experience teaches that early recognition and treatment are necessary to avoid permanent disability and that the effectiveness of treatment is limited once the patient has reached the chronic fibrotic stage. Certainly, the incidence and severity of CRPS can be greatly reduced by initiating prophylactic measures in situations that are known to be triggers (eg, hemiplegic stroke, Colles fracture). These measures include immediate and aggressive mobilization of the involved extremity with passive and then active range-of-motion exercises. Similarly, in patients with established CRPS, physical and occupational therapy are key components of any therapeutic regimen.

Two major approaches to the medical treatment of early CRPS 1 exist: sympathetic blockade and anti-inflammatory therapy. Although these are not mutually exclusive, the order of usage is generally specialty-dependent, with anesthesiologists/surgeons starting with the former and internists/rheumatologists starting with the latter.

Radiofrequency ablation, such as stellate ganglion ablation, cervical-thoracic, and lumbar sympatholysis, has been tried in refractory cases. [15, 16]

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