Controversies surrounding reflex sympathetic dystrophy: a review article

Curr Rev Pain. 2000;4(4):259-67. doi: 10.1007/s11916-000-0102-7.


The topic of reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) has generated an increasingly significant volume of medical literature and controversy over the last decade. A search of PubMed, the online site of the National Library of Medicine, for papers on RSD reveals nearly 2200 articles on the topic (using algodystrophy as the search word, wherein RSD references are also included, and more older and European articles are also listed). From 1991 through 1998 inclusive there is an average of nearly 100 articles per year on the topic, which represents more than a third of all the articles referenced since 1965. In the decade of the 1980s, there is an average of 64 articles per year, 74 per year in the last half of the decade and 54 per year in the first half. Prior to the decade of the 1980s, one finds an average of 40 articles per year back to the mid-1960s. The controversy surrounding the disorder centers around the nature of the problem and whether it is a primary organic disorder or a primary psychogenic disorder associated with the accomplishment of some secondary gain. If it is the former, then clearly research should continue to determine the nature and etiology of the malfunctioning organ(s). If, on the other hand, RSD is a psychogenic disorder, then the medical community does well to focus mainly on the peripheral manifestations of the problem. In that instance, therapy should be primarily psychological and cognitive with regard to the secondary gain, and persistent organic treatments are unlikely to improve the condition in general and worsen individual cases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychology / statistics & numerical data
  • Radiography
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / diagnostic imaging*
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / physiopathology*
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / psychology
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / therapy