Treating Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Treatment for reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), also known as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS-1), starts with therapy that teaches you ways to move the affected region. But if your pain prevents this therapy, you may have other treatment first. No matter what the treatment, the sooner you get it, the better your chance to get better.

Physical, occupational, and hand therapy

Physical, occupational, and hand therapy aim to improve movement, build strength, and reduce pain. Which therapy you receive depends on which part of your body is affected by RSD. The goal of therapy is to help you to learn ways to use the affected region as normally as possible. For instance, if RSD affects your leg and foot, you may work with a therapist to walk more. Or, if you’ve lost some hand or arm use, you may learn exercises to regain some of that function.

Treatment also may include desensitization. This involves rubbing different textures on the injured region. Heat or cold also may be used. Treatment can help you get used to things touching your hand or foot. This may help reduce pain in the long term.

Medical treatment

Your healthcare provider may suggest certain treatments for your symptoms. The goal is to reduce your pain and to get you moving again. Treatment may include:

  • Oral medicines to relieve pain including ion channel blockers such as gabapentin or medicines to reduce sympathetic nerve activity, such as phenoxybenzamine

  • Corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory medicines can be useful

  • Lidocaine patches or other topical medicines

  • Nerve blocks to stop pain signals

  • Spinal cord stimulators to send electrical signals that block pain

  • Sympathectomy to destroy an autonomic nerve that might contribute to the pain. This is done either through chemical injection or surgery.

  • Electroacupuncture may help treat early, mild cases

Other treatment

RSD is complex and painful. You may feel depressed or angry about having it. Psychological therapy and RSD support groups may help you deal with those feelings. Other treatment also may help you cope. Biofeedback, for instance, can make you more aware of your body’s pain signals. This may help you learn how to control pain and the stress it may cause.