Lately, you’ve noticed pain throughout your body that happens without warning and can be sudden and intense. Oddly enough, your hair and fingernails have grown in spurts, but you don’t remember an injury or illness that would’ve caused these strange symptoms. What’s going on? You may be experiencing CRPS flare-ups.
What is CRPS?
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is an illness that causes pain and multiple symptoms. Scientists think irregular nerve functioning triggers a hyper-reaction to pain signals that the nervous system can’t turn off. Complex regional pain syndrome can’t be cured, but treatments are designed to lower symptoms, restore the use of limbs, and maintain a person’s quality of life. CRPS is rare, with only about 200,000 cases in the United States each year. It affects three to four times more women than men and is prominent in people of European descent.
What Are The Causes?
CRPS is mostly triggered by harm to, or dysfunction of, “injured peripheral sensory neurons,” which then results in negative effects on your spinal cord and brain. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord; the peripheral nervous system comprises nerve signals radiating from your brain and spinal cord to other body regions. Other likely causes include fractures, surgery, sprains and strains, burns and cuts, limb immobilization through casting, and occasional skin penetration.
Types and Stages of CRPS
There are two kinds of CRPS and three stages of flare-ups to know about.
- Type 1 happens after an injury or illness which didn’t result in direct damage to a nerve where illness or injury was observed.
- Type 2 means there was a separate nerve injury.
CRPS flare-ups may happen in three stages:
- Stage 1 – acute. Stage I may last up to 3 months. Burning pain and increased sensitivity to touch are the most common early symptom of CRPS. This pain is different — more constant and longer lasting — than would be expected with a given injury.
- Stage 2 – dystrophic. Stage II can last 3 to 12 months. Pain is more widespread, stiffness increases, and the affected area becomes more sensitive to touch.
- Stage 3 – atrophic. Stage III occurs after one year and spreads to other areas of the body.
When CRPS strikes
A CRPS flare-up can happen any time and without warning, and primarily relates to extremely painful symptoms linked to the condition. Flare-ups may be known for:
- Continuous throbbing or burning pain, generally in your arm, hand, leg, or foot. Eventually, chronically inflamed nerves can cause the pain can spread to most or all the limbs, even if the spot originally affected was smaller. Rarely, pain and other symptoms happen in a matching spot on the opposing limb.
- Sensitivity to cold or touch.
- Swelling in the painful area.
- Changes in skin temperature, rotating between cold and sweaty.
- Variations in skin color, going between blotchy and white to red or blue. These skin symptoms normally fluctuate because they indicate irregular blood flow in the affected area.
- Abrupt changes in skin texture, as it becomes tender, thin, or shiny in the area that hurts. Again, the main culprit is abnormal blood flow.
- CRPS flare-ups are also noted by unexpected changes in how quickly and how much hair and nails grow.
- Joint stiffness, swelling and damage. This happens because reduced movement results in reduced flexibility of ligaments and tendons. When that happens, ligaments or tendons may rub or pinch nerves to trigger an internal flare-up of CRPS in people who don’t have external injuries.
- Muscle spasms, shakes, and weakness.
- Decreased mobility in the affected limb.
In some cases, CRPS flare-ups can be managed with pain medicine, therapy, lifestyle changes, or ketamine infusion dispensed by specialty clinics nationwide.
Diagnosis & Treatment
No test can accurately diagnose CRPS, but diagnosis is typically made through a physical examination based on symptoms that align with the Budapest Criteria, a list of common signs created by an international panel of experts. Certain tests may help, including bone scans to notice any changes; and tests that quantify variations in skin temperature, sweating between harmed and unharmed limbs, and blood flow. In some cases, x-rays may reveal mineral loss in your bones. Magnetic resonance imaging may also determine if tissue changes have occurred because of CRPS; and specialized magnetic resonance neurography is a tool to evaluate specific nerve involvement.
If you have CRPS symptoms, certain medicine and therapy may be used to fight flare-ups, but there are other treatment options to consider, including innovative ketamine infusion therapy.