Psychological differences between reflex sympathetic dystrophy and non-RSD chronic pain patients

Pain. 1996 Sep;67(1):107-114. doi: 10.1016/0304-3959(96)81973-7.


This study examined possible psychological differences between Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and non-RSD chronic pain patients. Unlike the few previous studies in this area, this study controlled statistically for age and pain duration differences across diagnostic groups, and included a non-RSD limb pain control group. Subjects were a consecutive series of 34 RSD, 50 non-RSD limb pain (Limb), and 165 low back pain (LBP) patients presenting for treatment at the Rush Pain Center. Analyses revealed that RSD patients reported more somatization and phobic anxiety on the Brief Symptom Inventory than LBP patients. RSD patients also reported greater coping with pain through diverting attention than LBP patients did on the Coping Strategies Questionnaire. Comparisons between the RSD and Limb groups revealed no significant differences with the exception of somatization scores. The relationship between distress and pain severity was found to be stronger in RSD and Limb patients than in LBP patients. These results provide partial support for clinical assumptions that RSD patients are more psychologically dysfunctional than other chronic pain patients. However, these conclusions do not generalize across all comparison groups. The fact that RSD and non-RSD limb pain patients were quite similar on nearly all measures suggests that sympathetic mediation of pain is not the source of these psychological differences.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease
  • Extremities*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Low Back Pain / psychology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / physiopathology
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires