A double-blind placebo-controlled crossover trial was used to determine the effects of topical ketamine, an N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, on the sensory disturbances in 20 patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). On two occasions separated by at least one week, sensory tests to light touch, pressure, punctate stimulation, light brushing and thermal stimuli were performed in the symptomatic and contralateral limb and on each side of the forehead before and 30min after 10% ketamine cream was applied to the symptomatic or healthy limb. Venous blood for the plasma estimations of ketamine and norketamine was obtained 1h after application of the creams. Ketamine applied to the symptomatic limb inhibited allodynia to light brushing and hyperalgesia to punctate stimulation. Systemic effects of the ketamine are unlikely to account for this as the plasma levels were below detectable limits. As touch thresholds were unchanged, NMDA receptors may contribute to the sensory disturbances in CRPS via actions at cutaneous nociceptors. Allodynia and hyperalgesia were detected in the ipsilateral forehead to a range of stimuli (brushing, pressure, punctate stimulation, cold, heat, and warmth). In several patients, ketamine treatment of the symptomatic limb inhibited allodynia to brushing the ipsilateral forehead, suggesting that the mechanism that mediates allodynia in the symptomatic limb contributed to allodynia at more remote sites. The present study shows promise for the use of topical ketamine as opposed to parenteral and oral forms which often result in undesirable side effects.