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Find Relief from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

True to its name, complex regional pain syndrome is an extremely painful and complicated medical condition that most commonly affects the arms, legs, hands and/or feet. Its complex, diverse set of symptoms varies widely from patient to patient. Although there is a long list of signs and symptoms—that typically appear within a month—the uniting factor for all patients is intolerable pain upon using the afflicted body part.

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

  • Swelling and pain
  • Burning and/or throbbing sensations
  • Sensitivity to external hot and/or cold temperatures
  • Changes in skin temperature and condition (fluctuations in feelings of heat, cold and sweating)
  • Skin changes (skin may appear white, blue or red at different times)
  • Texture changes of the skin (skin may look thin or shiny and feel tender)
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Stiffness, swelling or other damage of the joints
  • Loss of strength or spasms in muscles
  • Inability to move or use a specific body part

Typically, the first indications of complex regional pain syndrome are sensitivity to hot and cold, swelling/pain and unaccounted for skin temperature changes. The next set of symptoms to appear are usually cold limbs, skin/nail growth changes and muscles spasms. Seeking immediate treatment is encouraged if you experience any of these signs, because the longer the condition persists, the more difficult it is to treat.

Who is at risk of developing complex regional pain syndrome?

This condition typically develops following trauma or nerve damage to the arm or leg. A recent experience of one of the following events may trigger complex regional pain syndrome:

  • Illness
  • Surgery
  • Amputation
  • Minor or major physical trauma (e.g. a sprained ankle, root canal or fracture)
  • Heart attack
  • Infection
  • Direct injury to a nerve

It is not known why these injuries spark the condition; however, medical professionals speculate that it may develop as a result of adverse inflammatory responses, or a malfunction between the peripheral and central nervous systems. Making the condition even more complicated, sometimes symptoms will disappear suddenly, or they may persist for months, or even years. Emotional stress can also exaggerate symptoms.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine is uniquely suited to help ease symptoms associated with complex regional pain syndrome. Your practitioner may choose to incorporate modern technology into a traditional acupuncture treatment. Some case studies have shown that the use of a microcurrent device can strengthen the effects of a treatment, especially in instances where pain was persistent and severe. When using this device, an acupuncturist inserts acupuncture needles at a slant, then place microcurrent stimulation pads on top for approximately 20 minutes. Treatment is administered 1-2 times a week over a period of four weeks. By 12 treatments, the patient's pain should be reduced, range of motion increased, walking and standing gait improved, and less reliance on pain medication.

Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help ease your symptoms!

About the Author:   Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.

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