Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 16, 2020
What Causes RSD?
Doctors think the pain caused by RSD comes from problems in your sympathetic nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system controls blood flow movements that help regulate your heart rate and blood pressure.
When you get hurt, your sympathetic nervous system tells your blood vessels to get smaller so you don’t lose too much blood at your injury site. Later, it tells them to open back up so blood can get to damaged tissue and repair it.
When you get RSD, your symptoms may show up slowly. You may have pain first, and then it may get worse over time. You may not realize your pain is abnormal at first.
The types of injuries that can cause RSD include:
- Minor surgery
- Needle sticks
- Radiation therapy
It’s most common to get RSD in your arm, shoulder, leg, or hip. Usually the pain spreads beyond your injury site. In some cases, symptoms can spread to other parts of your body, too.
- Skin that’s warm to the touch around the injury
The pain you get with RSD is usually constant and severe. Many people describe RSD pain as:
Your skin may also feel sensitive when you do things that don’t normally hurt it, like taking a shower. Or it might hurt just to wear your clothes.
Other symptoms of RSD include:
- Changes in your hair or nail growth, or skin’s texture
- Excess sweat in certain areas of your body
- Muscle weakness or spasms
- Stiff joints
- Trouble moving the injured area
- White, mottled, red, or blue skin
Often, doctors don’t know your pain is being caused by RSD until you’ve had it for some time. When pain doesn’t go away, or is more severe than it should be for your type of injury, it can be the first clue that it could be RSD.
Bone scan. This test can detect if any of your bones are wearing away at the ends or whether there are issues with regular blood flow.
MRI. Your doctor might order an MRI to look inside your body, specifically at your tissues, for noticeable changes.
Sweat test. This test can tell your doctor if you sweat more on one side of your body than the other.
Thermography test. This sympathetic nervous system test checks to see if the temperature or blood flow is different at your injury site than in other parts of your body.
X-rays. These are typically ordered if your syndrome is in later stages to look for mineral loss in your bones.
Early detection is key in RSD treatment. The earlier you’re able to catch it, the better your treatment will work. Some cases of RSD don’t respond to treatment. RSD doesn’t have a cure, but it’s possible to recover from many of the symptoms.
- Some of the medications your doctor may suggest include:
- Anesthetic creams like lidocaine
- Anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs
- Anti-seizure medications that may help treat pain
- Nasal spray that treats bone loss
- Nerve blocking injections
- Over-the-counter options like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen for pain
Other ways to treat symptoms include:
- Electrodes on your spinal cord that send small electric shocks to relieve pain
- Physical therapy to help you move around more easily and take away pain
- Psychotherapy that can teach you relaxation methods
- Splints to help with hand pain
Article Provided By: webmd
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