Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is a debilitating disorder involving the human skin, nerves, blood vessels, and bones. The sympathetic nervous system reacts to a stimulus for example, an injury. Blood flow may be affected in reaction to a burn, cut, or severe temperature changes. To prevent you from further using an injured limb, the limb swells. Sometimes inexplicably an abnormal or prolonged sympathetic reflex begins in a limb as reaction to a trauma.

The sympathetic nerves become overactive and can cause a variety of symptoms that may cause debilitating consequences. There can be many symptoms, but the most common one is burning pain. Some of the other symptoms include swelling, temperature change, skin color change, diminished motor function, and severe sweating. These symptoms usually happen in a limb but can occur in other body parts eg. face. Symptoms may vary with each individual who has CRPS type one (RSD). Read about other experience or share your own in our RSD Forum.

RSD is the common name used for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). The name of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) was changed to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in 1993 by the International Association for the Study of Pain. The are 2 forms of CRPS. The only difference between type 1 and type 2 is type two is easier to diagnose. CRPS type one is formerly known as RSD and CRPS type two was causalgia. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy are used synonymously today. RSD should not be confused with rhabdomyosarcoma (rhabdo) which is another debilitating disease. Over the years science has progressed so much that day by day they are progressing in cures for incurable diseases. For now, some prescription medications help in limiting some diseases.


RSD & CRPS Frustration

RSD/CRPS is frequently dismissed by health professionals for many reasons including:
They don’t understand the diagnosis and/or they are not familiar with the disorder.
They understand the diagnosis but lack experience in how to treat it properly.

Many think that the client is pretending to be ill.

RSD/CRPS is thought to be hopeless and there is no cure. (There is hope!)

RSD/CRPS is purely psychological and that it is not a medical condition, i.e. “It’s all in your head”. (This is a myth.)

Many people who work within the health care system dread accepting a client with RSD because effective treatment requires an ongoing, almost daily assessment of the condition to develop the proper regimen. It is far too time consuming for most clinics to adequately care for RSD clients.

Due to the nature of RSD, the condition can quickly change for better or worse for reasons that are not fully understood. Therefore it is necessary to schedule evenly spaced treatment sessions in order to benefit the client.

The health care provider must address the plan of care very carefully once the diagnosis is made and must thoroughly customize therapy for each client. All individual characteristics (psychological, social, physiological) must be taken into account during therapy.

Communication between the family members, health professionals, and the client must be clear, ongoing and become well established. It is common for the client to have failed in a previous program if a positive, creative, caring relationship was not established. If either the client or the therapist senses a communication problem, it is far better to acknowledge that another clinician may be of greater benefit to the client’s progress.