CRPS Vs. Neuropathic Pain

CRPS Vs. Neuropathic Pain

Your arms and legs hurt after repetitive motion, but you also suspect you pinched a nerve in your neck when your car ran into a curb during icy road conditions. It’s possible you’re experiencing symptoms of CRPS or neuropathic pain.

What is CRPS?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a type of long-term pain that normally affects an arm or a leg. It happens most often following an injury, surgery, stroke, or cardiovascular problems. The pain sensation is more severe than what the initial injury would indicate it should be.

CRPS is rare, and its cause is unknown. Treatment is successful when begun early and may lead to improvement and remission. It affects about 200,000 Americans every year.

What is Neuropathic Pain?

Peripheral neuropathy or neuropathic pain, happens when nerves outside the brain and spinal cord are damaged, often resulting in weakness, numbness and discomfort, normally in the extremities. It’s not unusual for some people to report pain in other areas and during bodily functions like digestion, urination, and blood flow.

The peripheral nervous system plays a key role in transmitting information between the brain and spinal cord (your central nervous system) and other parts of your body. It also directs sensory information to your central nervous system.

Comparing CRPS & Neuropathic Pain 

CRPS and neuropathic pain have many similarities and differences, sometimes making diagnosis and treatment difficult. The pain sensations they cause are similar, but neuropathy can happen due to something that shouldn’t be painful. Here are some other points to consider.

CRPS Symptoms

Complex regional pain syndrome may lead to one or more of the following:

  • Unprovoked or spur-of-the-moment pain that can be continuous or changes with activity
  • Excess or continual pain after contact or use
  • Fluctuations in skin temperature, color, or inflammation of the affected limb
  • Changes in skin texture
  • Profuse sweating and abnormal nail and hair growth
  • Stiffness in certain joints
  • Wasting away or additional bone growth
  • Your muscles seem impaired or weak

Some of these can be treated with innovative therapy including ketamine infusion.

CRPS Causes

Complex regional pain syndrome, a rare condition, presents symptoms that are unique for each person and vary in frequency and intensity.

  • Fractures, especially injuries to the wrist
  • Surgery can often cause CRPS
  • Sprains/strains involving connective tissues
  • Minor injuries like burns or cuts
  • When limbs are immobilized by a cast
  • Occasional skin penetrations, such as from a cut or needle

In rare cases, about 10%, there is no known cause for complex regional pain syndrome.

Neuropathic Pain Symptoms

  • Numbness, prickling or tingling feeling begins slowly and can spread into your arms and legs 
  • Sharp or burning pain
  • High sensitivity to touch
  • Pain from something that shouldn’t be painful like covering your feet with a blanket
  • Poor coordination and falling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Feeling as if you’re wearing gloves or socks when you’re not
  • Paralysis

Neuropathic Pain Causes

There are many possible sources of neuropathic pain, including:

  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes is known to trigger neuropathic pain
  • Problems with facial nerves
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Central nervous system illnesses (like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis)
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Shingles, either while it’s happening or afterward (then called postherpetic neuralgia)

Risk Factors To Be Aware Of

Both conditions have potential risk factors which could make someone more susceptible to either one. Leading risk factors for complex regional pain syndrome include gender, females and post-menopausal females are more at risk; distal radius fracture or ankle fracture; and immobilization from surgery or something else. The chance of neuropathic pain is greater due to the following risk factors: diabetes, alcohol misuse, vitamin deficiencies, certain infections and autoimmune diseases, exposure to toxic chemicals, repetitive motion, family history, and kidney, liver, or thyroid disorders.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you have symptoms of either condition, one of the first steps you can take to getting better is seeing a healthcare provider for diagnosis. This will include a thorough medical examination, reviewing personal and family medical history, and even certain tests which may detect an underlying condition triggering the symptoms, like blood tests, imaging tests, bone condition studies, sweat production tests, x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging, and many others. In some cases, you may be referred to a mental health specialist for further diagnosis if there isn’t a medical cause for either condition.

Treatment could include different kinds of therapy (physical, rehabilitative, psychiatric, etc.), medicine and pain relievers, diet or lifestyle changes, Calmare “scrambler” therapy, and ketamine therapy. Rare cases may require surgery or another medical procedure.

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