Which physical findings are characteristic of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)?

Updated: Nov 08, 2018
  • Author: Steven J Parrillo, DO, FACOEP, FACEP; Chief Editor: Andrew K Chang, MD, MS  more...
  • Print

The physical findings have been listed as part of the "History" section because the criteria sets include both signs and symptoms. Three stages have been classified. Although a consensus panel recommended that staging be eliminated, it is important that the emergency physician has an awareness of potential disease progress. Disease progress is very variable.

  • Stage I or early RSDS: Pain is more severe than would be expected from the injury, and it has a burning or aching quality. It may be increased by dependency of the limb, physical contact, or emotional upset. The affected area becomes edematous, may be hyperthermic or hypothermic, and shows increased nail and hair growth. Radiographs may show early bony changes. Duration is usually 3 months from onset of symptoms. Some patients remain in one stage or another for many months or even years. They may never progress or they may progress quickly to late stage. Remember that physical findings may be minimal, especially in those who remain in stage I or progress slowly.

  • Stage II or established RSDS: Edematous tissue becomes indurated. Skin becomes cool and hyperhidrotic with livedo reticularis or cyanosis. Hair may be lost, and nails become ridged, cracked, and brittle. Hand dryness becomes prominent, and atrophy of skin and subcutaneous tissues becomes noticeable. Pain remains the dominant feature. It usually is constant and is increased by any stimulus to the affected area. Stiffness develops at this stage. Radiographs may show diffuse osteoporosis. The 3-phase bone scan is usually positive. Duration is 3-12 months from onset.

  • Stage III or late RSDS: Pain spreads proximally. Although it may diminish in intensity, pain remains a prominent feature. Flare-ups may occur spontaneously. Irreversible tissue damage occurs. Skin is thin and shiny. Edema is absent. Contractures may occur. Radiographs indicate marked demineralization.

Extensive changes are present in the muscles of patients with long-standing disease. [30]

Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!