MN RSD Coalition

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Reflex Sympathetic Dsytrophy Syndrome (RSD) is an uncommon form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm or a leg. RSD typically develops after an injury, surgery, stroke or heart attack, but the pain is out of proportion to the severity of the initial injury. Signs and Reflex Sympathetic Dsytrophy Syndrome include:

  • Continuous burning or throbbing pain, usually in your arm, leg, hand or foot
  • Sensitivity to touch or cold
  • Swelling of the painful area
  • Changes in skin temperature — at times your skin may be sweaty; at other times it may be cold
  • Changes in skin color, which can range from white and mottled to red or blue
  • Changes in skin texture, which may become tender, thin or shiny in the affected area
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Joint stiffness, swelling and damage
  • Muscle spasms, weakness and loss (atrophy)
  • Decreased ability to move the affected body part

The cause of RSD isn't clearly understood. Treatment for RSD is most effective when started early. In such cases, improvement and even remission are possible.

RSD is also referred to as "Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)," "the shoulder-hand syndrome," "causalgia (Greek for burning pain)," and "Sudeck's atrophy." 


Some Quick Facts:

  • The syndrome is ranked 42 on the McGill Pain Scale which means it is rated as the WORSE pain to exist putting it above non-terminal cancer, child birth, and even amputation of a digit.
  • The syndrome is one of the most underdiagnosed / misdiagnosed medical conditions.
  • Rough estimates put the number of people afflicted with this syndrome up to 2% of the population.
  • It strikes sufferers from 1 to 101 although about 65% of sufferers come down with the syndrome in their 30s to 40s.
  • Women are 2-3 times more likely to come down with the syndrome then men.
  • Typically people who suffer from the syndrome see 5 or more doctors / specialists before being properly diagnosed.
  • There is NO cure for the syndrome but early diagnose can help reduce and slow down the onset of symptoms.
  • The syndrome spreads in up to 80% of those who suffer from it with 8% of these being full body.
  • Something such as barometric pressure drop increases the pain in nearly 75% of suffers.
  • Depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders are common among suffers of the syndrome.


Brief History of RSD/CRPS:

"Perhaps few persons who are not physicians can realize the influence of which long-continued and unendurable pain pain can have upon both body and mind".

Silas Weir Mitchell "Nerve Injuries" 1864.

 The first descriptions of CRPS were documented during the America Civil War (1861-65) by Silas Weir Mitchell MD, a young US Army contract physician, who treated soldiers with gunshot wounds. In his book "Gunshots Wounds and Other Injuries", he described pain which persisted long after the bullets were removed from the bodies of soldiers. He noted that the pain was characteristically of a burning nature, and named it "causalgia"(Greek for burning pain) which he attributed to the consequences of nerve injury. He observes:

"...a painful swelling of the joints....may attack any or all articulations of a member. It is distinct from the early swelling due to the inflammation about the wound itself, although it may be masked by it for a time:nor is it merely a part of the general edema....Once fully established, it keeps the joint stiff and sore for weeks or months. When the acute stage has departed, the tissues become hard and partial anklyosis results."

Mitchell et al 1864

To continue learning more about the history of RSD/CRPS click here