This prospective, consecutive series describes peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) for treatment of severe reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) or complex regional pain syndrome, in patients with symptoms entirely or mainly in the distribution of one major peripheral nerve. Plate-type electrodes were placed surgically on affected nerves and tested for 2 to 4 days. Programmable generators were implanted if 50% or more pain reduction and objective improvement in physical changes were achieved. Patients were followed for 2 to 4 years and a disinterested third-party interviewer performed final patient evaluations. Of 32 patients tested, 30 (94%) underwent permanent PNS placement. Long-term good or fair relief was experienced in 19 (63%) of 30 patients. In successfully treated patients, allodynic and spontaneous pain was reduced on a scale of 10 from 8.3 +/- 0.3 preimplantation to 3.5 +/- 0.4 (mean +/- standard error of the mean) at latest follow up (p<0.001). Changes in vasomotor tone and patient activity levels were markedly improved but motor weakness and trophic changes showed less improvement. Six (20%) of the 30 patients undergoing PNS placement returned to part-time or full-time work after being unemployed prestimulator implantation. Initial involvement of more than one major peripheral nerve correlated with a poor or no relief rating (p<0.01). Operative modifications that minimize technical complications are described. This study indicates that PNS can provide good relief for RSD that is limited to the distribution of one major nerve.