Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a disorder that causes chronic pain in one or more parts of the body, typically in the arms and legs. Although it can affect anyone, women suffer from it more often than men. There are two types of the syndrome:

Type I is when the cause of the pain cannot be identified. It is also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) syndrome.
Type II is when nerve trauma due to an injury or surgery can be identified as the cause of the pain. It can often develop after a stroke or heart attack. This type of pain is also known as causalgia.

No matter what type of CRPS you suffer from, there is a treatment that may relieve your pain and discomfort. Pain Management Specialists can treat those who suffer from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in Charleston, SC. There may be one treatment, or a combination of treatments, that can be tailored specifically for you to relieve your pain.


  • General pain relievers. This includes over-the-counter (OTD) medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Some examples of brand names are Advil, Motrin, and Aleve.
  • Opioids. In extreme cases, opioids may be prescribed. If your physician determines this is the best treatment for you, he or she will determine the appropriate dose for you that will keep your pain under control.
  • Anticonvulsants. These are often used to treat pain that is caused by a damaged nerve. Gabapentin, brand name Neurontin, is an anticonvulsant that is frequently prescribed to relieve nerve pain.
  • Antidepressants. These were originally used just to treat patients with depression. It was discovered that they are also effective in treating nerve pain. The most common antidepressants prescribed are Amitriptyline and Nortriptyline.
  • Corticosteroids. Prednisone is a commonly prescribed corticosteroid for the treatment of CRPS. Corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation and thereby improving mobility in the affected limb or limbs.
  • Topical analgesics. OTC Capsaicin cream applied to the painful limb or limbs often helps. Prescription Lidocaine cream or patches may also be prescribed.

Other medications may be prescribed depending on your unique case.

Nerve Blocks and Epidurals

Nerve blocks and epidurals are similar treatments. A nerve block involves injecting an anesthetic along with a steroid into a specific nerve root at the place where the nerve exits the spinal column. An epidural is an injection of the anesthetic and steroid into the outer space of the spinal canal that contains muscle and blood vessels. Both types of spinal injections provide pain-relieving medication directly to the source of the pain. While many patients find one or the other of these procedures relieves their pain, many others find nerve blocks and epidurals to be ineffective.

Different Types of Therapy

Each patient is different with their own unique situation and need for pain relief. To reach your goal of pain relief, you may need to try different therapies or a combination of therapies and other therapeutic treatments in order to find a system that works best for you.

  • Physical therapy. There are different types of physical therapy that may work. The goal is to allow you the free use of your limb or limbs without pain, or without making the pain worse. Physical therapy needs to be monitored, and it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you. Too vigorous movements or exercises may make the pain worse. Too little may not help. It is vital that the physical therapist have experience working with CRPS patients.
  • Occupational therapy. This type of therapy can help with improving your skills needed for activities of daily living when your pain is so severe you are unable to really take care of yourself.
  • Heat. Sometimes the application of heat to the painful area offers pain relief, especially in limbs affected by CRPS when they may occasionally feel cold.
  • Mirror therapy. This works for some people. You sit in front of a mirror and move your healthy limb in a normal manner. The idea is that you are tricking your brain into perceiving that as the affected limb and somehow, this trick improves function and reduces pain. It does not work for everyone.
  • Biofeedback. There are different biofeedback techniques that may help you learn how to be more aware of your body, so you can relax and ultimately relieve your pain.
  • Intrathecal drug pumps. This involves implanting a small pump between the muscles and the skin of your abdomen. The pump contains pain medication that is slowly released to the spinal nerves by way of a catheter from the pump to the spine.

Spinal Cord Stimulation

If medications or physical therapy do not help, spinal cord stimulation might reduce your pain. This involves placing a device just under your skin with a lead placed close to your spine. The device sends mild electrical impulses to your spinal cord to relieve the pain. You may feel a slight tingling sensation in the location where you used to feel pain, but the pain will be gone.

The level of stimulation can be changed to accommodate your level of pain. If this therapy does not work, or for some reason you need the device removed, it is a simple procedure to remove it.

Alternative Therapies

There are also non-conventional therapies that you may try when you have tried everything else and nothing seems to help. Some examples are:

  • Acupuncture. This involves the insertion of long, thin needles by a trained acupuncturist who knows where in the body to position the needles. They help stimulate the nerves and muscles along with connective tissue. This increases blood flow to the affected nerves and can ultimately relieve pain.
  • Chiropractic treatment. Some patients try chiropractic treatment with a chiropractor who is skilled in the treatment of CRPS.
  • Psychotherapy. Living with chronic pain is stressful and can cause anxiety and depression. Psychotherapy may help you cope with your condition and deal better with your symptoms.

Education and Self-Management

As part of your pain relief plan, you need to educate yourself about your medical condition. Then, you can take steps to self-manage your pain. Some things you can do include:

  • Learning everything you can about CRPS. Ask your doctor for information. Google the initials “CRPS” and the phrase “chronic regional pain syndrome.” Read articles from reputable sites such as those posted from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Learning how to use the affected part of your body so you can stay as active as possible.
  • Learning pain relief techniques that you find are helpful to you. Try meditation and visualization.
  • Learn relaxation techniques you can use at home when the pain gets really bad.
  • Join any support groups in your area.

If you are suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in Charleston, SC, contact our pain relief doctors at Southern Coast Spine & Pain Specialists.