You’re in pain, and you don’t know why. You haven’t had any significant injuries or illnesses recently, but you’ve noticed accelerated fingernail growth, and your skin is extremely sensitive to touch – resulting in intense pain. What’s going on? You could be experiencing symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome.
What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a condition where the pain, happening spontaneously or due to a sensory stimulus, is out of proportion far more than it should be. One example is when pain is intense from something that should have little effect on someone, like a pinprick creating more discomfort than it should (this is called hyperalgesia). CRPS usually affects one limb after a limb injury or surgery. Because pain is different for everyone and uniquely affects their lives, effective treatment varies by person – but one worth considering is ketamine therapy.
What is Ketamine?
Ketamine is a medicine that was first synthesized about 60 years ago as a new kind of anesthetic. Positive clinical trials piqued the interest of the U.S. military, which requested that the medication be shipped off to treat wounded American soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Ketamine was so successful that it was granted approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as anesthesia for humans and animals in the 1970s. Many people, however, quickly realized its other medicinal value – its ability to create an out-of-body experience and reduce symptoms of mental illness and physical pain conditions.
CRPS Myths to Ignore
- Myth: Complex regional pain syndrome will go away on its own. False, CRPS is a lifelong condition that may ebb and flow but remains persistent.
- Myth: CRPS is solely a mental health issue. False.
- Myth: An individual may only get complex regional pain syndrome after getting hurt. False.
- Myth: Complex regional pain syndrome only happens to adult women. False.
- Myth: CRPS has set stages and will eventually spread throughout the body. This is false, as there are no set, agreed-upon stages, and the pain can remain localized.
Injuries Might Result in the Development of CRPS
In many cases, chronic regional pain syndrome is often caused by severe or forceful injuries to an arm or leg. However, like other chronic pain conditions, the exact causes are sometimes unknown, and many patients report not knowing how or when they were injured, if ever at all.
Types of arm injuries that may lead to complex regional pain syndrome could include any of the following:
- Fractures or broken bones.
- Dislocations, especially when a bone is pulled out of a joint.
- Sprains could also lead to CRPS because of torn or stretched ligaments.
- Strains are like sprains but affect muscles rather than ligaments.
- Using muscles too often can also lead to CRPS, sometimes happening without a specific injury.
- A muscle or bone bruise from a direct blow.
- Skin injuries.
Types of leg injuries that may lead to complex regional pain syndrome could include any of the following:
- Achilles tendon rupture, where the tendon behind the ankle is torn.
- Strained calf muscle, which happens with many sports like baseball, football, or basketball.
- Shin splints are a condition that generally happens in sporting events involving lots of running and jumping for most of the activity.
Complex regional pain syndrome is one of the most severe conditions a person can have. It’s also rare. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, it affects nearly 200,000 people each year in the United States, regardless of age or gender. The U.S. National Institute of Health says the prognosis for CRPS varies from person to person depending on the causes, the severity and duration of symptoms, and potential treatment options.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your healthcare provider may diagnose CRPS if there’s a suspicion or evidence that your pain symptoms started happening about four to six weeks after a limb injury, that symptoms can’t otherwise be explained, and if symptoms are localized and affect an entire arm or leg. Diagnosis happens after assessing your medical history and a physical exam to see if you meet what’s known as the Budapest criteria, which have four components.
Based on the diagnosis results, you and your clinician can begin discussing treatment options, which may include physical or occupational therapy, certain pain medicines or anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and ketamine therapy.
Complex regional pain syndrome is rare, but that doesn’t mean you should endure it until it ruins your quality of life. Talk to your healthcare provider today about treatment.