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CRPS ( formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) is believed to be caused by damage to, or malfunction of, the peripheral and central nervous systems.  

CRPS is characterized by prolonged or excessive pain and changes in skin color, temperature, and/or swelling in the affected area.

CRPS symptoms vary in severity and duration, although some cases are mild and eventually go away.  In more severe cases, individuals may not recover and may have long-term disability. Although it is more common in women, CRPS can occur in anyone at any age, with a peak at age 40.  CRPS is rare in the elderly. 

The key symptom is prolonged severe pain that may be constant.  It has been described as “burning,” “pins and needles” sensation, or as if someone were squeezing the affected limb.  The pain may spread to the entire arm or leg.

People with CRPS also experience changes in skin temperature, skin color, or swelling of the affected limb, changes in skin texture on the affected area; it may appear shiny and thin, changes in nail and hair growth patterns etc.


It is unclear why some individuals develop CRPS while others with similar trauma do not.  In more than 90 percent of cases, the condition is triggered by a clear history of trauma or injury.  The most common triggers are fractures, sprains/strains, soft tissue injury (such as burns, cuts, or bruises), limb immobilization (such as being in a cast).


There is no specific test to confirm CRPS. Diagnosis is based on medical history, examination and signs and symptoms.  Testing is used to help rule out other conditions. Magnetic resonance imaging or triple-phase bone scans may be performed to help confirm a diagnosis.