Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Physiotherapy

Complex regional pain syndrome physiotherapy explained

While it might not always seem like it, pain is actually one of the best defense mechanisms our body has to offer. It informs of damage or an impending physical threat to our well-being, or it can alert us to a malfunction with our internal system, which is often what spurs us to receive medical attention. Learning complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) physiotherapy techniques will be able to assist you in healing.

However, not all pain is our friend, and in some specific cases, it can actually be the cause of long-term damage, in addition to short-term suffering. Complex regional pain syndrome is one of these cases, where pain runs amuck in the body and threatens long term health.

Find out how complex regional pain syndrome can affect you, or if you are already experiencing the symptoms of this disorder, take some time to learn more about their causes and how to receive the appropriate treatment today.

Understanding complex regional pain syndrome

Also known as CRPS, this disorder occurs in conjunction with a separate injury, stroke, heart attack, or surgery. While some residual pain is to be expected from any of these events, the effects of CRPS cause the patient to experience pain far beyond what would normally be expected. It is experienced in the limbs, and while its precise causes are not completely understood, it is believed to be associated with nerve dysfunction or abnormal inflammation. Each of these can be caused by injuries and surgery alike.

The symptoms of CRPS are chronic and can last a lifetime if treatment is not sought. While arms and legs are the most common regions to be affected, CRPS can also be found in the back, foot, or hands. In addition to the pain, symptoms can include rhythmic muscle contractions, muscle loss, or irregular muscle spasms. Pins and needles can be experienced in the absence of pain, or otherwise an uncomfortable burning sensation which is endemic of nerve damage. Redness, stiffness, swelling, depression, and headache are also common.

Complex regional pain syndrome physiotherapy

There are a number of different treatment options for CRPS including medication, biofeedback, heat or cold therapy, as well as physiotherapy. While waiting to see a doctor, simple self-care can be applied with a heat pad. This will help relieve pain, as well as drain skin infections that could otherwise spread faster.

Complex regional pain syndrome physiotherapy must be tailored to the specific needs of the individual. A quality physiotherapy program will attend to the specifics of the disease by considering its location, duration, and intensity. However looking to the patient themselves is also key, considering age and individual abilities. Below are three of the most common types of physiotherapy used to treat CRPS.

Now, let's learn some complex regional pain syndrome physiotherapy routines.

Movement therapy

A simple and straightforward approach, movement therapy aims to keep the affected parts of your body active, to retain full control as well as prevent tightening of muscles or joints that come with disuse. Since the pain that comes with CRPS is so severe, patients are often inclined to keep the affected areas still or motionless. This type of therapy attempts to address this.

Graded motor imagery

GMI looks to the mind, rather than the body, to treat the effects of CRPS. Using left and right discrimination training, mirror box therapy, and motor imagery exercises, this approach is intended to exercise the brain in carefully controlled steps that will gradually allow the patient to regain control over their body.

Mirror box therapy

One of the key components of GMI, mirror box therapy asks the patient to perform simple, repetitive movements in front of a mirror. This allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind movement and slowly regain the control they may have lost with CRPS.


Since there is still much that doctors do not know about CRPS, it is difficult to prescribe a series of actions or habits that will stall its onset. However, by arming yourself with plenty of knowledge about the disorder itself, you can more easily identify its symptoms and treat the disorder more quickly and effectively.

If you experience unusual pain after a surgery or injury, make sure to keep your limb moving with safe and gentle motions. If it lasts for more than a few days, consult a doctor.

Last Reviewed:
July 18, 2017
Last Updated:
October 25, 2017
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