Repairing Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Naturally
Gladys has been in pain for years. It started when she sprained her wrist. It wasn’t broken, and she wore a brace for a couple of weeks, but the pain never went away, and began to get worse over time. She is unable to use her left arm much of the time due to pain, sensitivity, and weakness. Her skin changes colors, often appearing mottled. Sometimes her hand goes numb and her fingers turn white. It is a constant problem, though the symptoms change over time. Severe pain wakes her up at night. Just moving her hand is hard because it often feels swollen and stiff. Even her own clothing can cause severe pain. She has been to many doctors, but the medications are either pain pills that don’t work, or sedatives that make her drowsy… and still don’t work.
Gladys has a syndrome called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). CRPS is usually found in one arm or leg and is a very difficult illness to diagnose and treat. Most people never find out why it happens. After a major injury like a compound fracture or a minor needle prick, the body produces an inflammatory reaction that damages the nervous system.
- Throbbing pain
- Sensitivity to temperature change
- Sensitivity to light touch
- Changes in skin temperature, texture, and color
- Changes in hair
- Nail changes
- Joint stiffness, pain, swelling and damage
- Muscle spasms, tremors, weakness and loss (atrophy) of muscle mass
These are all classic CRPS symptoms created by the sympathetic nerves of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system keeps us stable by managing blood flow, temperature, pressure, and inflammation. Thus, when not working properly, these nerves can make it appear like there is injury or damage to tissues. In turn, swelling occurs when the blood vessels are too enlarged, creating excess pressure or muscle spasms if not getting enough blood flow. The pain nerves are very sensitive to having enough oxygen and nutrients from the blood. If they aren’t getting enough, they will produce pain at the slightest touch.
Gladys had multiple treatments over the years, including a pain pump on her spine, and many different drugs. She gradually got worse and went to a nursing home where she still lives with continual pain despite multiple medications.
Even though a small number of people are affected by CRPS, it can be devastating. Gladys is a worst-case scenario. CRPS can improve over time, but many people are affected for years, or for life. I think for this reason alone, it would be worth finding ways to prevent and reverse this terrible illness. The treatments I’m suggesting are studied but aren’t yet recommended by specialists in the field. It can take over 20 years for research to filter down to regular doctors.
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation- Keeping the limb mobile is very important, even though it may be painful and hard. This prevents bone and muscle loss but doesn’t reverse the illness.
- Medications– There are many different medications that may provide temporary relief, but none address the underlying cause.
- Electrical stimulation– TENS units apply electrical current to the nerves that are affected, blocking the pain conduction to the brain. The problem persists, you just don’t feel it – sometimes.
- Nerve blocks and surgery– The attempt to kill the nerves that are creating the pain is rarely useful. It often doesn’t work, and the pain may return despite treatment.
- Graded imagery– Looking in a mirror while moving the good arm can trick the brain into seeing the bad arm function normally. This is a good thing to pursue because it can help the brain to change the function of the sympathetic nerves in the affected area.
While the physical, chemical, and electrical modalities may relieve symptoms, they do not address the underlying cause in the autonomic nervous system. The mind modalities such as graded imagery, counseling, and biofeedback are more successful in the long term.
The reason most treatments don’t work is because this problem is not primarily in the affected limb, but rather in the brain. The brain controls every inch of the body, changing the blood flow as needed to keep the body alive, and stable. The local effects of pain and inflammation come from dysregulation of blood flow controlled by the brain. That’s why mind techniques work better than local techniques.
Now we will look at the most advanced methods for reversing this terrible condition.
After an injury such as a sprain or fracture there are two things that seem to decrease the chances of getting CRPS: