— What is CRPS? Types of CRPS and common confusions:
- C – complex: CRPS is a complex condition in that it involves many body systems and a range of signs and symptoms must be present for the diagnosis (Budapest Criteria — see here).
- R – regional: CRPS emerges in a region of the body, most commonly affecting a hand or a foot.
- P – pain: CRPS is typically very painful — things that would normally hurt really hurt, and things that don’t normally hurt now also hurt. The pain can often be excruciating and incredibly disabling.
- S – syndrome: a syndrome is simply a collection of signs and symptoms
There are two types of CRPS, Type 1 and Type 2:
- Type 1 – CRPS evolves from an injury such as a sprain or a fracture. Sometimes the injury is innocuous with the resulting symptoms of CRPS being an over-response, especially the pain that is out of proportion to the injury.
- Type 2 – CRPS evolves from a nerve injury
The pain of CRPS is vastly out of proportion to the seen injury. Pain does not have a reliable or direct relationship with pain in any circumstance; pain is simply not an accurate indicator of tissue damage. Believing that more pain equates to more damage results in wrong thinking and wrong management. People describe the pain of CRPS in many ways.
Pain is often the main focus and reason why the person seeks help. Drugs are frequently viewed as the way to control and ease pain and indeed medication can and does have a role. However, there are many other ways to change pain, including a range of strategies and techniques that steer the person back to meaningful living.
Pain is an ultimate example of a conscious experience that grabs our attention and compels action. Pain is all about protection and is related to the level of perceived threat. In CRPS there is a high threat value associated with the region being protected, both in terms of our biology in the dark and the way we think about the pain and problem; i.e./ we raise the threat value by the way we think about our pain and the meaning we give to the pain, which is why understanding the problem and knowing you can change it is the vital start point.
Pain is complex and involves all the body systems that detect possible threat and then protect us: nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, sensorimotor system, autonomic nervous system (fright or flight). Consider the way in which CRPS presents and you will begin to see how these systems are all playing a role. There is no pain system or pain signals. Pain is about perceived threat: reduce the threat by thinking in the right way and taking healthy action, and the pain changes.
How it looks
Of course you cannot see pain but you can see when the region is inflamed — red, swollen, shiny etc. Inflammation plays a significant role in CRPS as in some people there is an over-inflammatory response to injury. Inflammation is normal but the volume is pumped up in some people, perhaps due to genetics but it can also be due to prior learning. The body systems that protect us have learned earlier in life to respond in a particular way and each time we need them to work, the do but with a bit more volume. Some call this kindling or priming. Examples of prior and existing conditions include: previous injury in the area and the sensitivity has persisted, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic pain, migraine. A further consideration is the state of the person and the context of the injury. A traumatic injury, such as a car accident, can trigger over-responses as can a more straight forward injury occurring at a time of stress or anxiety. Understanding the person and knowing their complete story is key to gathering insight into what has happened and how it has happened.
How it feels
The affected region commonly feels different. It can feel alien, like it is not attached, not part of self, look different to how it feels. This can be strange and worrying but is characteristic of CRPS (and many other painful problems). It is due to a change in the sense of the body that is in part created by representational maps in the brain. We have many of these representations that allow us to perform tasks every day — imagining what we will have for dinner, thinking about how we will take the penalty or mow the lawn for example. However, when we have pain and move differently, i.e. we are protecting ourselves, the maps change thereby giving us a different ‘sense of self’. People don’t usually volunteer this information for fear of disbelief, however it is such an important part of identifying the problem and deciding upon the approach needed to overcome CRPS. Envisioning a normal sense of self is important before deciding on the right course of action: the aim is to feel oneself again after all.
CRPS arises within a circumstance, often an injury (but this can be minor), but the context in which the injury is embedded and prior experience determine how our biology in the dark responds. Pain is in the face of perceived threat hence the need to reduce threat to change the pain. We do this in a range of ways begining with understanding and thinking the right way before taking action (a coaching, treatment & training programme) to overcome the problem in as much as the person feels themselves and leads a meaningful life.
** If you think you have CRPS or have any concerns, you should always seek the advice of a healthcare professional who understands your condition.
Pain Coach Programme for CRPS and persisting pain | t. 07518 445493