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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy


Do you ever feel pain that is constant, spontaneous, and severe burning pain?

Fortunately, your search for a definitive and concrete diagnosis for your pain has come to an end. Your previous physicians may not have known it, but there is a name for the type of pain that you are feeling: Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), RSD is a chronic condition that our pain specialists at AZ Pain Medicine Clinic can help you with.

What Is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy applies to a variety of seemingly unrelated disorders that have similar clinical features and manifest the same fundamental disturbed physiology. Not much is known about what causes this chronic condition. However, it oftentimes occurs after a triggering event such as body trauma from a knee injury.

The term Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is no longer a widely used term nowadays, so your medical practitioner might be more familiar with CRPS. Otherwise known as causalgia, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is a historical term that describes an RSD that follows partial or complete injury to the peripheral nerve trunk.

Pain is often characterized by constant, spontaneous, and severe burning pain. If persistent, it results in trophic changes, such as abnormalities in the surrounding area of pain. These seeming abnormalities may include your tissues wasting away, your bones thinning, and your hair or nails changing in terms of growth.

CRPS is a chronic pain that usually results from trauma to a soft tissue or bone (Type I) or from an injury to the nerves (Type II). Type I CRPS is a progressive disease of the nervous system, and the symptoms of pain and burning can affect not just one, but even all limbs. In extreme cases, other areas (or even all areas) of the body may be affected. In fact, it may even lead to complications, such as depression, anxiety, and atrophy.

RSD may transpire even without related nerve damage, so long as there was a previous injury to bodily tissues. It commonly happens in a patient’s arms, legs, shoulders, or hips, but it can also spread beyond the original point of injury. This chronic pain can cause excess sweat in certain areas on your body, joint stiffness, difficulty in moving the injured body part, and white, red, or blue skin.

When you get RSD, your skin can feel sensitive to normal everyday routines that are not supposed to hurt, like something as simple as wearing clothes. The severity of pain is typically worse than the original injury itself, so it is not an easy condition to live with. It is for this reason that our healthcare specialists at AZ Pain Medicine Clinic provide services to help manage the pain that people with RSD feel.

What Causes Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)?

The cause of RSD is not yet completely known. However, since RSD usually happens after trauma to the extremities, certain conditions can trigger RSD. These may include sprains, fractures, surgery, damage to the blood vessels or nerves, and even certain brain injuries.

Doctors also suspect that RSD is caused by problems in the sympathetic nervous system, which is the body organ responsible for controlling blood flow movements and helping regulate your heart rate and blood pressure.

The reason for this belief is simple. Whenever you get injured, the sympathetic nervous system tells blood vessels to get smaller in order to prevent too much possible blood loss. It also reverses this instruction and makes the arteries open back up in order to resume normal blood flow and repair any damaged tissue.

With RSD, however, your sympathetic nervous system may get mixed signals. After ordering the blood vessels to contract, it may not instruct the arteries to open again, thus causing a lot of pain and possibly swelling.

While trauma to physical extremities is a known contributing factor of RSD, there have been cases where a patient has gotten RSD despite not having any recent injuries.

Although doctors don’t know the exact mechanism that causes RSD, our professional pain specialists are available and can help you treat its symptoms.

What Are Some Symptoms of RSD?

RSD frequently comes with a group of symptoms, including constant and severe burning pain, tenderness in the affected areas, extreme swelling, and varying degrees of sweating.

There may also be discoloration and flushing since this chronic pain can cause the skin to be abnormally shiny.

RSD can happen either rapidly or gradually, and patients may not immediately show any Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy symptoms at all. It can also affect both sides of the body, as experienced by almost half of RSD patients.

What Are The Stages of RSD?

For those who are wondering what are the stages of CRPS, there are basically three stages of this disease. In fact, at our pain clinic, we have treated and advised patients who have suffered the following stages:

Stage 1: Acute

At its initial stages, you will begin to notice the onset of persistent pain within three to six months from even something as simple as a hand injury. You may suffer symptoms such as burning, flushing, blanching, sweating, tenderness, swelling, and pain. An MRI or an X-ray may also show bone thinning in the areas surrounding the injury’s location.

This burning pain and increased sensitivity to touch are the most common early symptoms of CRPS. It is entirely different from the pain you may have experienced before, as it is constant and longer-lasting.

CRPS can be expected after an injury, and swelling and joint stiffness may follow, along with increased warmth and redness in the affected limbs. Your hair and nails may also grow more rapidly than normal, and you may experience excessive sweating.

Stage 2: Dystrophic

This stage can also last from three to six months, as it shows early skin changes of shiny, thickened skin. Pain may persist despite the swelling and flushing having been diminished.

Skin temperature may also become cooler, as fingernails start to turn brittle. The pain that you may experience during this stage may spread from the area where the injury is causing stiffness. You may also begin to feel more sensitive to touch.

Stage 3: Atrophic

This last stage of RSD lasts for a lot longer than the previous two stages. Here, X-ray results can show significant osteoporosis, and you may become less capable of moving around as the layers of fat under the skin begins to thin. Even if your pain decreases, movement may still be limited since the condition has already spread to other body areas.

How Is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) Diagnosed?

Some doctors may miss the fact that you have RSD until you have actually suffered its symptoms for some time. The first clue that your pain is due to RSD is usually a persistent pain that is more severe than what you can expect for the type of injury you experienced. Most people may be quick to dismiss this as normal pain, but it shouldn’t be the case.

No single test can help your pain doctor to identify whether or not you have RSD, so you might need to undergo a physical exam as soon as possible. Getting an early diagnosis is important since it can help prevent the progression of your condition.

Imaging methods, such as MRI and X-rays, can detect any noticeable changes in your body. At our pain medicine clinic, our healthcare staff also take your medical history and symptoms into account, and we will examine the area where you are affected by RSD. This can be quite the task, however, as you will typically feel extreme pain in the area and may be prone to making the examination a bit difficult.

Can RSD Be Cured Or Prevented?

Researchers have not yet discovered a cure or method of preventing RSD at this time. However, scientific research about the subject continues. In fact, some advances have already resulted in new CRPS treatments that effectively aid patients in preventing a remission of the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

Some surgical procedures may also help reduce symptoms after a comprehensive examination. Our pain management staff here at AZ Pain Medicine Clinic provides these services. We develop individualized pain management plans for you based on your medical history and records to better give you a chance for relief from the pain that you are experiencing.

How Is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) Diagnosed?

As with other ways to manage pain, reflex sympathetic dystrophy treatments may be both both surgical and nonsurgical.

For nonsurgical means of treating RSD, our healthcare staff may recommend taking medications and injection therapy to relieve your symptoms. You may also discuss other potential treatments like physical therapy and doing relaxation techniques for the severe pain that you feel.

If nonsurgical treatment fails, surgical procedures may help ease your pain symptoms. You may have to undergo surgery, such as a pain pump implantation or spinal cord stimulator implantation, to reduce your RSD symptoms.

You can get a consultation with us today to help you manage your pain. Our staff wants you to live a life that isn’t focused on tolerating pain, so if we can help you eliminate it, then you should schedule a meeting with our medical practitioners as soon as possible.

We offer a range of solutions for the pain and discomfort you feel through the several methods that AZ Pain Medicine Clinic is known to treat. Our extensive knowledge of chronic pain treatments sets us apart from the rest of the pain medicine practitioners in Arizona.

Our pain medication and management professionals are available Monday to Friday from 8am until 6pm. You can give us a call at 1-844-999-2976 or drop by our clinic as a new patient on a walk-in basis! Let us get you started with your healing journey.

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Address: 8805 N 23rd Ave. Suite # 160 Phoenix, AZ 85021

Phone: 1-844-999-2976

Fax: 602-368-8801

Email: info@azpainmed.com

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We can take new patients on a walk-in basis and you can come in Monday to Thursday 8am-6pm.