Managing Complex Regional Pain Syndrome With Physiotherapy

Managing Complex Regional Pain Syndrome With Physiotherapy

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) describes long-lasting pain in one or more of the limbs that is the result of damage to or malfunction of the nervous system – meaning your nerves in either your central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or peripheral nervous system (the nerves that extend from your spine to the rest of your body) as opposed to any muscle, bone, joint or soft tissue injury.

As the name suggestions, the process and cause behind the pain can be complex and difficult to understand, attribute or classify. While this makes the exact mechanism difficult to understand, what is known is that the result is severe, persistent and debilitating pain that is often very limiting to those affected.

CRPS: Causes & Symptoms

Aside from ongoing pain, nerve-related symptoms may also be experienced including:

  • Burning
  • Tinging
  • Pins and needles
  • Numbness
  • Sensitivity to touch and temperature
  • Excessive sweating
  • Changes to the skin colour and appearance

Technically speaking, there are two types of CRPS. Type I develops after an injury, event or illness that does not directly damage a nerve in the affected limb – like a sports injury. Type II does involve identifiable injury to a nerve.

In most cases, CRPS is triggered by an injury or an event like bone fractures, muscle injuries, sprains, burns, surgery or periods of immobilisation in a cast. Medical events like heart attacks, strokes, cancer, infection, emotional stress and an overreaction of the immune system may also play a role. With this said, it remains unclear why some people with specific injuries will go on to develop CRPS, and others with the same injury don’t. CRPS may develop gradually or slowly, can vary in severity, and occurs at a higher rate in women than men, especially between the ages of 40 and 50 years.

What’s The Outlook & Treatment For CRPS?

While the recovery for CRPS can vary greatly from person to person and predicting outcomes is very difficult, it is possible to reduce and manage the pain. Research has shown that early treatment in the first three months may yield the most promising results. Without care, CRPS may spread to other areas of the body, lead to tissue wasting or muscle tightness, or remain an ongoing problem for a long time. 

A number of treatment and management options are available that focus on managing the symptoms, working on the nerves, and improving general health and well-being to optimise your outcomes. These range from pain-relieving medication or injections to TENS machines and refining your coping mechanisms (breathing, relaxation, mindset) for when the pain does start.

Physiotherapy is an important part of managing CRPS and helping attain the best outcomes for patients – and something we do here at The Physio, with Senior Physiotherapist Stuart Canavan specialising in pain management.

Physiotherapy & CRPS: How We Can Help

Physio in CRPS focuses on functional rehabilitation, which involves keeping the affected limbs moving to help prevent the damaging effects on bones and tissues, maintaining good overall movement and flexibility, and also promoting your overall fitness, health and well-being.

Our physiotherapists in Toowoomba or Warwick have one goal: to help you live comfortably and independently – helping relieve and manage your current symptoms, while best preparing you for long-term mobility, function and health. This is done with a tailored program based entirely on your symptoms, goals, and how CRPS is currently affecting your life. We use non-invasive, personalised treatments, and your care may include:

  • Pain management modalities
  • Stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Massage or acupuncture (dry needling)
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Gradual exercise to keep the painful limb or body part moving, including options like reformer pilates in Toowoomba
  • Gentle stretching and strengthening
  • Exercises to help you continue to perform your daily activities
  • A lot of information about how to best manage CRPS day-to-day, and work towards getting the best outcomes
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