Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a collection of signs and symptoms that define this particular condition. A syndrome according to the Oxford Dictionaries, is a ‘group of symptoms which consistently occur together, or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms’. Therefore, we can clump together any set of symptoms and give it a name, which is really what has happened over the years in medicine. The important point is that when we use the term, we should all know what we are talking about and know what we should look for to make a diagnosis. In other words, a set of guidelines.
The Budapest Criteria delivers guidelines for CRPS, which you can read about in this paper by Harden et al. (2013). The clinical criteria (see below) acknowledge the sensory, vasomotor, sudomotor/oedema and motor/trophic categories that really highlight the complexity of CRPS. Pain is often the primary concern, with people describing their incredible suffering in a range of graphic ways. However, it is not just the pain that causes suffering but the way in which the life of the person changes together with their sense of who they are and their sense of agency seemingly lost. One of the roles of the clinician is certainly to help restore that sense of who I am, a construct that is built from many of life’s ‘components’.
1. Continuing pain, which is disproportionate to any inciting event
2. Must report at least one symptom in three of the four following categories
- Sensory: Reports of hyperalgesia and/or allodynia
- Vasomotor: Reports of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or skin color asymmetry
- Sudomotor/Edema: Reports of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry
- Motor/Trophic: Reports of decreased range of motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin)
3. Must display at least one sign at time of evaluation in two or more of the following categories
- Sensory: Evidence of hyperalgesia (to pinprick) and/or allodynia (to light touch and/or deep somatic pressure and/or joint movement)
- Vasomotor: Evidence of temperature asymmetry and/or skin color changes and/or asymmetry
- Sudomotor/Edema: Evidence of edema and/or sweating changes and/or sweating asymmetry
- Motor/Trophic: Evidence of decreased range of motion and/or motor dysfunction (weakness, tremor, dystonia) and/or trophic changes (hair, nail, skin)
4. There is no other diagnosis that better explains the signs and symptoms
Importance of diagnosis
A diagnosis made in the same way, based on the same criteria means that clinicians, researchers and patients alike are all discussing the same condition. This may seem pedantic but in fact it is vital for creating a way forward. Clinicians mus know what they are treating, patients must know what they are being treated for and researchers must know what they are researching. Sounds obvious but let’s not take it for granted. So the Budapest Criteria has pointed all those with an interest in the same direction. Consequently we can focus on creating better and better treatments.
As with any painful condition, the start point must be understanding the pain itself. The following questions arise that we must be try to answer:
- why am I in pain?
- why this much pain?
- why is it persisting?
- what influences my pain?
- what do I, the bearer of the pain, need to do to get better?
- what will you do, the clinician or therapist, to help me get better?
- how long will it take?
New thinking, new science, new models of pain over the past 10 years has advanced our knowledge enormously. Understanding how we change, how our body systems update, how we can make choices as individuals, and the practices we can use to change our pain experience to name but a few, create great hope as we tap into our amazing strengths and resources as human beings. Detailing the treatment approaches is for another series of blogs, but here the key point is that the first step in overcoming pain is to understand it. It is the misunderstanding of pain that causes erroneous thinking and action, which we can and must address across society — pain is a public health issue. Chronic pain is one of the largest global health burdens (Vos et al. 2012). It costs us the most alongside depression, and I believe that this need not be the case if and when we change how we think about pain, based on current and emerging knowledge.
“The first step to overcoming pain is to understand it”
This is the reason for UP | understand pain, which we started in 2015 with the aim of changing the way people think and then approach their pain, realising their potential and knowing what they can do. We are about to launch the new website that is packed with practical information for the globe to access online. Alongside this we have plans to create a social enterprise that will purport the same messages, coming from the great thinkers and clinicians who are shaping a new era in changing pain.