Complex regional pain syndrome-significant progress in understanding

Pain. 2015 Apr;156 Suppl 1:S94-S103. doi: 10.1097/01.j.pain.0000460344.54470.20.


Research into complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) has made significant progress. First, there was the implementation of the official IASP "Budapest" diagnostic criteria. It would be desirable to also define exclusion and outcome criteria that should be reported in studies. The next step was to recognize the complex pathophysiology. After trauma, some inflammation is physiological; in acute CRPS, this inflammation persists for months. There is an abundance of inflammatory and a lack of anti-inflammatory mediators. This proinflammatory network (cytokines and probably also other mediators) sensitizes the peripheral and spinal nociceptive system, it facilitates the release of neuropeptides from nociceptors inducing the visible signs of inflammation, and it stimulates bone cell or fibroblast proliferation, and endothelial dysfunction leading to vascular changes. Trauma may also expose nervous system structures to the immune system and triggers autoantibodies binding to adreno- and acetylcholine receptors. In an individual time frame, the pain in this inflammatory phase pushes the transition into "centralized" CRPS, which is dominated by neuronal plasticity and reorganization. Sensory-motor integration becomes disturbed, leading to a loss of motor function; the body representation is distorted leading to numbness and autonomic disturbances. In an attempt to avoid pain, patients neglect their limb and learn maladaptive nonuse. The final step will be to assess large cohorts and to analyze these data together with data from public resources using a bioinformatics approach. We could then develop diagnostic toolboxes for individual pathophysiology and select focused treatments or develop new ones.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndromes / complications*
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndromes / diagnosis*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology