CRPS and RSD in the Lower Leg and Foot – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Recovery
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a condition that primarily affects the lower leg and foot. Discussed below are the causes, common CRPS symptoms, pain management/surgical treatments, and recovery options, as well as helpful information about mobility device options. By the end of this section, you’ll better understand all the implications of CRPS as well as treatment options.
Also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), CRPS is a chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder that generally affects one or more of the limbs, though it can happen in any part of the body (1). That means the nervous system and the immune system malfunction in a response to tissues damage–normally from trauma or injury–causing nerves to misfire. The connection then becomes continuously faulty, leaving the affected area in constant pain. CRPS also creates an abnormal response that magnifies the affected injury, making it much more severe.
The levels of pain and outward visual signs of CRPS symptoms can range dramatically from person to person. Along with the visual and physical inconsistencies among CRPS symptoms, the amount of trauma to the body that causes CRPS can vary greatly. Unfortunately, CRPS is widely unknown, though information on the subject is constantly being studied and uncovered.
There are no documented direct causes of CRPS. The majority of research on the condition has suggested that the initial injury permanently damages the pain receptors, which then causes disrupted communication between the affected area and the brain. Research shows that in 90% of all CRPS cases the condition is caused by significant trauma or injury, such as (2):
In many circles, CRPS is also referred to by another name: Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome or RSD. Many consider RSD an older term for describing CRPS, though it’s still often used in the medical community.
Though many consider RSD and CRPS interchangeable, RSD is more often used to describe a more specific condition: Type 1 CRPS.
Type 1 CRPS and its counterpart, Type 2 CRPS, have near identical symptoms but they’re differentiated by their causes (3):
Despite minor differences, RSD is still commonly used for describing the symptoms associated with CRPS. Along with RSD, there are several other terms occasionally used to describe this condition, such as:
CRPS symptoms can vary in intensity (4). Along with the physical symptoms, the nerve damage may correlate with the individual’s emotional state and affect the levels of pain he or she feels. In fact, high levels of stress or anger have been known to significantly increase many of the symptoms related to CRPS. With each CRPS sufferer presenting their own unique symptoms, each case can differ dramatically. .
There is also a large range of pharmaceuticals (5) including but not limited to
Before surgical treatments are considered, doctors may want to explore another option: A sympathetic nerve block. This consists of an injection into the spine intended to block the pain transmission. All medical non-surgical pain management options must be done under the supervision of a doctor. .
The second options, removing the damaged nerve, involves a surgeon locating the exact nerve causing the issue and completely detaches it. Much like the other options, this one involves invasive surgery and the risks that come along with it (6).
Finally, the most extreme option is amputation. Most doctors oppose the idea of removing a limb because of nerve damage, but there are special cases where amputation may be the best option (7). Unfortunately, there have been multiple CRPS cases where an amputation of the nerve damaged area lead to poor results. Even after removing the affected limb they still suffer the same pain via the phantom extremity.
It’s advised that anyone suffering from CRPS consults regularly with their medical professionals to determine which surgical options—if any– are best suited to the patient’s specific needs and previous reactions to the non-surgical procedures. .
Recovery options for CRPS depend somewhat on the specific injured area. For example, the revocery for an arm affected by CPRS involves not using the arm while keeping the injured area as safe and as comfortable as possible. Recovering from CRPS on the lower leg or foot is a bit more difficult. The sufferer must find ways to walk with the least amount of pressure on the affected area. There are only a few options for mobility when the lower leg or foot is damaged:
Canes and crutches literally keep the hands full, which means the user has limited or no use of their hands while standing or walking. This poses a problem for most suffers as there is no direct cure for CRPS and many sufferers live with the condition for life. Having to struggle with crutches is not an option for anyone that has to care for themselves or others as it hinders the ability to do laundry, cook food, or almost any other day-to-day life duties.
Wheelchairs and knee scooters are alternatives for those looking for more long-term mobility options. Wheelchairs allow the sufferer to sit and keep weight off the foot, but they’re bulky and difficult to maneuver. They may also require many other modifications, such as ramps to be useful in your home. The knee scooter gives the user more freedom and more versatility in comparison to the wheelchair, but they are cumbersome and hard to use in tight spaces. Scooters also have some serious limitations, as they can only traverse flat surfaces.
The last and most revolutionary lower leg and foot recovery device for CRPS patients is the iWALK2.0. The iWALK2.0 is a hands-free crutch that straps directly to the leg. This takes weight off of the injured lower leg or foot and leaves the hands free and available for everyday life. The compact, lightweight design of the iWALK2.0 makes it easy to use in small spaces, up and down stairs, and even in the shower!
Though CRPS affects only a small number of people, it doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone. Support groups for CRPS sufferers offer ways to help yourself with RSD recovery and others who are dealing with the pain caused by this troubling condition.
This CRPS / RSD community caters to the entire Untied States. One of their members will contact you and help you find a local group suited to your specific situation to assist with RSD recovery.
This website has lists of blogs and support groups to help those suffering with RSD, CRPS, and chronic pain.
This site has complied numerous links to RSD and CRPS support groups in both North America and Europe.
A support group that anyone suffering with CRPS / RSD can join. Members are encouraged to ask questions and share stories.
Burning Nights is a site dedicated to helping CRPS sufferers. The site offers a number of support resources to help with the overwhelming aspects of this condition.
For sufferers, CRPS is a very misunderstood chronic disease that requires in-depth research and understanding to productively survive with its diagnosis. Surgical and non-surgical treatments are available for RSD recovery, but each should be considered very carefully with a doctor’s supervision. If your lower leg is affected, it is important to find the mobility device that best fits your lifestyle and gives you back your freedom while you are in recovery.
|The information above is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to prevent, treat, or diagnose any illness or disease. We aim to provide the highest quality information, so if you have any questions on the information above, we welcome your feedback!|
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke;
New York State Department of Health
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) Syndrome