CRPS is associated with imbalance and malfunction of the autonomic nervous system resulting in disability, impairment, chronic pain, and functional loss. The International Association for the Study of Pain has proposed dividing CRPS into two types.
Formerly known as Sudeck’s atrophy or reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) does not exhibit demonstrable nerve lesions. The vast majority of people suffering from CRPS have this type.
Formerly known as causalgia, has obvious nerve damage present. As a rule, type II is considered the more painful of the two types with an unenviable 47/50 score on the McGill pain scale.
While CRPS was considered in the past to have three stages, it is now believed that patients with CRPS do not necessarily progress through these stages, or progress sequentially.
Characterized by intense, burning pain at the site of injury. Muscle spasms, joint stiffness, swelling, restricted mobility, vasospasms, rapid nail and hair growth, decrease in temperature, and decreased range of motion have all been reported. This has also been called “wet CRPS” as some patients may experience increased sweating. For a few lucky patients, this stage may last for a few weeks and then resolve on its own. For the unlucky majority, it progresses.
Characterized by even more intense pain, described by some as similar to the sensation of burning alive or being burned with a blowtorch. Hair growth is inhibited; swelling spreads; osteoporosis becomes severe; nails may crack, pit, grooved or have spots on them; joints tend to thicken, and the muscles will atrophy or shrink, causing the affected limb to appear thinner than the other.
Characterized by permanent changes in the skin and bones, while the pain becomes even more intense and now may involve the entire limb. Flexor tendon contractions may be present causing the limb or appendage to contract (much like a claw). The symptoms may spread to any other body part, for example the optic nerves or the digestive system.
The Vagus Nerve works as a two-way highway, passing electrochemical signals between the organs and the brain. In chronic inflammatory disease, low Vagal tone (or function) causes inflammation in the body. And, high Vagal tone (or function) causes the reversal of inflammation.
Good communication between the immune system and the brain is therefore vital for controlling inflammation. Of course, the problem in the body of a CRPS patients is that the Vagus Nerve is doing anything but communicating with the body. It has become more like a traffic-clogged freeway, where few signals are making it through in either direction.