This condition is not very common, when it does occur it can be very painful and disabling. You may be suffering from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) if your pain is extremely intense and out of proportion to the injury. It is important to pick up on the signs of CRPS early, as this can prevent it from developing into a chronic condition.
There are two types of Chronic Regional Pain Syndome; CRPS I and CRPS II. One is caused by injury to a tissue, such as skin or muscle (CRPS I), and the other is caused by injury to a nerve (CRPS II). However, the symptoms and treatments for both types are similar. CRPS is referred to as a regional pain syndrome because your symptoms are generally confined to 1 region of the body, such as a foot.
The exact cause of CRPS is unknown, but one possible explanation includes a heightened response to sensation by your nervous system after an injury or stress on the body. Typically after an injury, your nerves will get excited and send a message that it is injured. Your body responds to this message by sending healing agents toward the injured area by widening your blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the area. The result is redness and swelling. With CRPS, it is thought that this stage of healing does not stop, and the nerves continue to stay excited. Your brain and the injured area are sending mismatched messages to each other. As a result, the injured area can be overly sensitive, swollen, warm, and red.
CRPS typically occurs in the area of the injury. Symptoms can spread further up the limb or over to the unaffected side. Individuals with CRPS experience sensitivity to light touch. Everyday activities such as bathing, or applying ice/heat can be very painful and difficult. The pain experienced is more extreme that what is expected from the original injury, and is usually described as constant burning, throbbing, or stabbing pain. Other symptoms that may be experienced are skin temperature that feels hotter or colder in the affected arm/leg. You can experience increased redness or discoloration of the affected arm/leg and swelling around the limb, changes in hair and nail growth of the arm/leg, increased sweating observed at the arm/leg and weakness of the involved area. If left untreated, CRPS can develop into a chronic condition. Your symptoms can spread further up the involved arm/leg and breakdown of the muscles and bones will start to occur.
Physical therapy can be very helpful in managing your symptoms and regaining normal function. Although physical therapy can be quite painful initially, it is a very important part of regaining your function and preventing this condition from getting worse. The symptoms of CRPS can vary from person to person, but your physical therapist will provide an individualized treatment that will help address your symptoms. Long-term outcomes are improved if treatment is started early.