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What is RSD/CRPS?

Before reading our "what is RSD/CRPS" is page we ask you to remember that a large proportion of patients go into spontaneous remission either with or without treatment and many are never formally diagnosed. The information on these pages tends to refer to the longer lasting more difficult cases so please take this into account when reading.

Many patients manage to stay in employment and disruption to their lifestyle is minimal; doctors have no idea why some cases go into remission while others cause long-term pain and disability.

Because RSD/CRPS is quite often a "hidden" condition many patients have additional problems because people either do not understand the pain they are in, or worse, disbelieve the pain they report feeling.

There are two types of CRPS. CRPS I is also known as RSD, CRPS type II is what used to be known as Causalgia. For more information about the two types of CRPS please see "Type I and Type II" link. In the majority of cases the name it is given is not important - it is the correct and timely treatment that is important. The treatment is usually the same for both types; however some treatments may be unsuitable for some patients depending on the site of the RSD/CRPS and any underlying conditions or nerve lesions.

RSD/CRPS may cause extreme pain (some people report only a little pain or discomfort), it may exaggerate normal stimuli such as the touch from clothes, a breeze of wind, a drop of water causing the stimulus to feel excrutiatingly painful; the pain is often reported as burning even if the affected area feels cold to touch. In a number of patients the pain doesn't stop or subside and it can drastically affect the patient, their mood and their ability to cope.

As well as pain the condition can cause other symtptoms, such as swelling (oedema), temperature changes around the affected area, skin changes (colour, texture and temperature), increased sweating, intolerance to heat or cold, muscle spasms, bone and muscle changes. You may also notice changes in hair and nail growth on the affected limb or area.

For the best chance of a positive outcome the patient should a timely diagnosis (quick) and effective treatment plans implemented as soon as possible. Treatment can be by way of physiotherapy, medications (tablets, medicines), nerve blocks (used alongside intensive physiotherapy), hydrotherapy, phsycotherapy, tens machines, spinal cord stimulators, morphine pumps and pain management techniques. Alternative therapies such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), accupuncture or reflexology may also help relieve the pain.

Before a patient accepts any treatment they should been given the opportunity to ask questions and have the answers given in a way they can understand. If you don't understand what the clinician has said then keep asking until you do understand. Quite often having another person with you at appointments is helpful as they often remember parts of the conversation you that may forget.

Many patients find there are some activities they can no longer participate fully in, if this includes a favourite hobby or work then there is understandably a void in the patients life. Distraction techniques (i.e. by using a hobby) can help with pain mangement, many RSD UK members have found that distance learning is a useful distraction tool and others have found new talents they hadn't realise existed - so don't give up hope!

RSD/CRPS patients may feel suicidal at times; it is important to seek medical advice and support from family and friends if you feel this way; don't keep it to yourself - there are people who want to help. If you know of an RSD/CRPS patient who feels suicidal make sure you get professional help, don't try to cope alone. For more information on depression and suicidal feelings please see our support section, that section also contains telephone numbers for organisations that may give advice.

Many patients find it useful to talk to others that have the same condition, you can join the RSD UK online support forums by visiting our support section. If, however, you do not have regular access to the internet, or are accessing the site for someone you know, we can put patients and families in touch with others facing similar difficulties. If you would like contact with others please contact Catherine or via the contact details page for more information.


RSD - What is it?

RSD for beginners

RSD for professionals

RSD for the patient

RSD for carers

Clinical guidelines

Spinal Cord Stimulator

Treatment efficacy

Type I and type II

Contact details

  A history of The RSD UK 2010

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