The purpose of the present study was to investigate the extent and quality of sensory impairment and their relation to pain characteristics and movement disorders in patients suffering from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) type I. Neurological testing was performed independently by two examiners in 24 patients with CRPS type I. In eight patients (33%), a hemisensory impairment with decreased temperature and pinprick sensation ipsilateral to the limb affected by CRPS could be observed. In four patients (17%), a sensory deficit in the upper quadrant of the body could be demonstrated and in eight patients (33%), sensory impairment was limited to the limb affected by CRPS. Mechanical allodynia and mechanical hyperalgesia could be observed in a higher percentage of patients with hemisensory deficit or sensory impairment in the upper quadrant (92%), than in those patients with sensory impairment limited to the affected limb (17%) (P < 0.005). In patients with left-sided CRPS, sensory abnormalities in the upper quadrant or hemisensory impairment were more frequently demonstrated (77%) than in patients with right-sided CRPS (18%) (P < 0.005). There was a high correlation (92%) for the sensory findings between the two examiners, and hemisensory abnormalities were stable over a period of 3-6 months in all six patients with repeated examinations. Motor impairment (contractures, weakness, tremor or difficulties in initiating movement) could be observed in a higher percentage in patients with sensory abnormalities in the upper quadrant or hemisensory impairment (83%) than in patients with sensory impairment limited to the affected limb (42%) (P < 0.05) and was significantly correlated with allodynia/hyperalgesia (P < 0.005). The results demonstrated that sensory deficits in patients with CRPS, frequently extend past the painful area of the affected limb. The increased frequency of mechanical allodynia and movement disorders in patients with hemisensory impairment or sensory deficits in the upper quadrant, might indicate that central mechanisms are involved in the pathogenesis of CRPS in these patients.