Children's Hospital Colorado

CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)

What is complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)?

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Complex regional pain syndrome, called CRPS for short, is a chronic pain condition characterized by debilitating, ongoing pain that often occurs in an arm or a leg. In rare cases, it can be present in other areas of the body.

In a person with CRPS, the skin on the affected area becomes extremely sensitive to touch and may change color and/or temperature. Symptoms also include swelling and stiffness, and it can become very difficult to move the limb.

What causes CRPS?

Complex regional pain syndrome is caused by over-activation of the sensory nervous system. This abnormal firing of the nerves occurs not only in the affected limb, but also along the nerve pathways up the spine and into the brain. Sometimes CRPS occurs after an injury or surgery, but other times it is not clear what triggers this response.

Who gets CRPS?

CRPS tends to occur more often in girls than in boys and in Caucasian children. Genetic predisposition may be one of many factors that contribute to the development of CRPS.

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What are the signs and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)?

People with CRPS experience:

  • Continuing pain that is greater than would be expected after an injury or no injury
  • Extreme skin sensitivity
  • Temperature or color changes
  • Changes to the growth of hair or nails in the part of the body affected by CRPS
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty moving the affected limb or weakness, stiffness, or shaking with movement

What tests are used to diagnose complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is typically diagnosed by gathering a patient’s medical history and with a physical examination. The diagnosis sometimes can be confirmed with a special three-phase bone scan. This scan involves use of a contrast dye that will help a clinician to know if there are any changes in the bone that may be an indication of CRPS.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for CRPS diagnosis?

Complex regional pain syndrome is a rare condition that is difficult to diagnose. At Children’s Colorado’s Chronic Pain Clinic, we specialize in chronic pain conditions of all types, including CRPS, and our team has both experience and expertise at diagnosing and successfully treating this condition.

What to expect from a visit to the Chronic Pain Clinic?

Your child will meet with a variety of specialists during the first evaluation at the Chronic Pain Clinic, including a doctor, nurse practitioner, psychologist, physical therapist and social worker. At the end of the visit, you will receive a summary of the multidisciplinary treatment plan and recommendations.

How do providers at Children’s Colorado make a diagnosis?

At the Chronic Pain Clinic, we work together as a team to diagnose and treat all chronic pain conditions, including CRPS. We integrate information gathered from all team members and combine the expertise of multiple disciplines to arrive at a diagnosis.

How is complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) treated?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is treated with a multidisciplinary approach that includes patient and family education, physical therapy and psychotherapy. Treatment may also include medications and nerve blocks or injections.

Our care team may also recommend alternative treatments, including acupuncture, massage, or biofeedback (a mind-body technique that helps teach patients how to influence their autonomic nervous systems).

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for your child’s CRPS?

The Chronic Pain Clinic at Children’s Colorado is one of few in the country that specialize in treating pediatric chronic pain conditions like CRPS. Our team uses evidence-based treatments, which have been proven to be the most effective way to manage and treat CRPS.


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