Complex regional pain syndrome : Symptoms & Signs, Diagnosis & Tests

Symptoms & Signs

In most cases CRPS has three stages. Often, however, CRPS does not follow this pattern. Some people go into the later stages almost right away. Others stay in the first stage.

Stage 1 (lasts 1 – 3 months):

  • Increased nail and hair growth
  • Pain that may move farther up or down the affected limb
  • Severe burning, aching pain that increases with the slightest touch or breeze
  • Skin that becomes dry and thin, changes color
  • Swelling with warmth or coolness

Stage 2 (lasts 3 – 6 months):

  • Decreased hair growth
  • Noticeable changes in skin texture and color
  • Spread of swelling
  • Stiff muscles and joints

Stage 3 (irreversible changes can be seen)

  • Contractions involving muscles and tendons
  • Limited movement in limb
  • Pain in the entire limb
  • Muscle wasting

Depression or mood changes may occur with these symptoms, especially in stage 3.

Diagnosis & Tests

Diagnosing CRPS can be difficult, but early diagnosis is very important. Often, the symptoms are severe compared to the original injury.

The doctor will take a medical history and do a physical examination. Other tests may include:

  • A test to show temperature changes and lack of blood supply in the affected limb (thermography)
  • Bone scans
  • Nerve conduction studies
  • X-rays


Review Date : 2/13/2008
Reviewed By : Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Departments of Anatomy & Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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