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Risk Factors in CRPS Cases

As complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is most often developed after an injury, striving to stay reasonably safe and healthy may be the best prevention possible. Unfortunately, CRPS can occur in individuals with no obvious injuries, perhaps as the product of a damaging infection. Though prevention is often the best means of protection, there is no sure way of preventing reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) or causalgia.

Once a person has been diagnosed with CRPS, they will be affected by the disorder for life. There is no cure, and treatments used to help patients with pain are not guaranteed to be effective. It is possible to alleviate the symptoms somewhat, however.

One of the symptoms of RSD and causalgia is a hypersensitivity to pain and temperature changes. Even a light touch to the affected limb or extremity might cause pain far out of proportion to the pressure applied. By keeping the afflicted limb from coming into contact with anything that might trigger increased pain, one can attempt to lessen the suffering at least a slight amount.

Conversely, if you keep the patient in a state of total immobility and isolation in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms, the possibilities of other risks appear. Lack of movement or exercise in muscle groups can cause those muscles to grow weak from disuse. If the muscles are neglected for too long, they may atrophy and become completely useless.

CRPS patients are not able to exercise their affected limbs without excruciating pain. In addition, sufferers do not have full range of motion in the affected body parts, as joint stiffness and tissue swelling often reduce mobility. For people afflicted with CRPS, this leads to a lose-lose situation. They cannot move their affected limb without extraordinary pain, and lack of movement in the limb leads to further stiffness, immobility, and consequently more pain.

Another risk of CRPS involving muscle groups is the prolonged contraction of muscle fibers. In pictures of CRPS sufferers, the hands or feet often appear to be clenched shut. This is not a voluntary reaction by the patients but rather an effect of CRPS. The muscles tighten and contract without stimulation and exercise and leave the hands or feet involuntarily clenched in a painful manner.

This is one of the reasons physical therapy is sometimes used as a treatment for RSD or causalgia patients. It increases their range of motion in a controlled environment with a professional while keeping the pain as low as possible, ensuring the affected muscle groups will not atrophy.

Another factor that can increase the suffering of affected individuals is emotional or physical stress. It has been widely recognized that emotional distress seems to exacerbate the pain felt by those with CRPS. The reasons for this are uncertain, though it is likely related to central nervous system responses to emotional or physical stress. A possibility might be the body’s involuntary response to emotional stress, such as tightening of the muscles, leading to heightened pain for a sufferer of RDS or causalgia.


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