Have you been diagnosed with CRPS Type 1? Can it be treated? For some patients, an injury or sudden illness may only be the beginning of their medical woes. A rare and little-understood secondary condition, complex regional pain syndrome, may follow. Only one limb usually feels pain. Most people who develop complex regional pain syndrome have the type known as CRPS Type 1. Researchers are continuing to study how to halt CRPS in its tracks. Yet there is a range of treatment options for you and your medical team to explore.
CRPS Type 1 and How It Can Be Managed
In this Article:
- Why Is the Condition Known as “Type 1”?
- CRPS Type 1 Symptoms
- Treatment Options
- Nutritional Changes
- Heat and Cold Therapy
- Pepper-Based Creams
- Alternative Therapies
Why Is the Condition Known as “Type 1”?
CRPS is broken down into Type 1 and Type 2 variations. Both are rare. Each involves chronic pain and additional symptoms in one limb. The pain develops after an injury or some kind of bodily trauma, but the nature of the pain and swelling can’t be attributed to a direct physical cause. The condition is still being studied. Researchers theorize that the initial medical crisis sets off a complex autoimmune response. This chain reaction results in “phantom” pain.
CRPS Type 1 is by far the most common type of complex regional pain syndrome. About 90% of people with complex regional pain have Type 1, which does not involve nerve damage. Often the original injury was not serious. In fact, the initial injury can be as minor as a sprained ankle.
Patients who have complex regional pain following injuries with nerve damage have Type 2 category. This category of complex regional pain involves nerve damage. The primary trauma or injury is often more serious. Type 2 conditions tend to develop following bone breaks, serious illness, or surgical complications.
CRPS Type 1 Symptoms
Complex regional pain symptoms usually happen in just one arm or leg. Symptoms that patients report experiencing in that limb include:
- Burning or throbbing pain
- Pain that extends along the entire limb
- Sensitivity to temperature changes
- Sensitivity to bumps and jostles
- Focused pain at a joint, such as knee, elbow, or fingers
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle weakness
- Changes in nail or body hair growth
- Skin that becomes shiny and thin
- Discoloration of the skin
- Muscle atrophy from underuse
In addition to the primary symptoms of CRPS Type 1, more problems may emerge at a later stage. Unlike the primary symptoms in one limb, these can impact the entire nervous system. Some patients develop difficulty in breathing, chest pain, “fuzzy” thinking, fatigue, digestive and urological problems, bloating, and rashes.
Because CRPS Type 1 varies from patient to patient, individual treatment plans will also vary. For example, your doctor might suggest corticosteroid injections for swelling. Surgery to address the initial injury is another option, as is using opioids for pain.
But for many patients, addictive painkillers and complex surgeries are the last resort. A more sensible plan is to try a variety of alternative treatments. Here are a few you might want to discuss with your medical team:
For the early intervention of CRPS Type 1, Vitamin C supplements can be beneficial. The nutrient aids healing, especially of broken and fractured bones. Speeding the rate at which your bones knit back together may prevent -- or at least mitigate -- complex regional pain syndrome. Ask your doctor about the recommended dosage of Vitamin C to take each day. Eating more citrus and leafy greens will deliver extra Vitamin C to your system.
When a swollen limb is a significant component of your CRPS Type 1 struggle, fish oil supplements may help. This rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids is key in easing internal inflammation. Omega-3s may also ease the severity of autoimmune responses associated with the condition. Eating more fatty fish like salmon and mackerel also provides this key nutrient. Vegans get extra Omega-3s for flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.
Heat and Cold Therapy
Doctors usually recommend trying heat and cold therapy for CRPS Type 1 -- but not Type 2. Extremes in temperature can aggravate the condition if the nerves are involved, as is the case with Type 2 complex regional pain syndrome. But because Type 1 patients are those who did not sustain nerve damage with their instigating trauma, these issues are less of a concern.
Using caution is still a good idea, especially if the sensitivity to temperatures on the affected limb is one of your symptoms. But for many CRPS patients, alternating heating pads and ice packs can help ease symptoms. Cold is a natural treatment for swelling, while heat soothes painful joints and taut muscles.
If you go to physical therapy as part of your complex regional pain syndrome treatment plan, your physical therapist may have additional heat and cold treatments available. These include ultrasound therapy, moist packs, and dry packs for heat therapy, and other specialized compresses for cold therapy. You can also learn better techniques for home treatments of hot and cold therapy while you’re at PT.
Hot peppers yield an extract known medicinally as capsaicin. This extract has a wealth of beneficial properties. For those suffering from CRPS Type 1, topical applications made from red hot chili peppers pack a one-two punch. First, capsaicin has anti-inflammatory properties. If your symptoms include rashes and swelling, the topical cream may reduce those problems. In addition, capsaicin is a natural pain-killer.
Topical capsaicin ointments and creams usually don’t require a prescription. Still, it’s a good idea to get a product recommendation from your doctor. For some CRPS Type 1 patients with temperature sensitivity on their affected limb, the pepper may be too warming.
If the topical creams do provide relief, however, your doctor may suggest switching to patches. Topical capsaicin has a higher concentration of active ingredients.
As with other types of chronic pain, one kind of alternative therapy may work wonders for one patient, but not for another. It can take patience and perseverance to find the treatment that helps your complex pain syndrome.
Along with applying hot and cold treatments, physical therapists can address a range of CRPS Type 1 issues. Loss of muscle mass and decreased circulation is a real concern for people who find it too painful to move their limbs as much as they should. PT will help you improve your range of motion and build strength as you work to recover from the symptoms. Physical therapists can also employ more high-tech, pain-killing techniques. One such device is a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine. TENS blocks pain messages from nerves.
Physical and emotional stress can be a key component of CRPS Type 1 flare-ups. For that reason, many patients pursue classes or sessions promoting relaxation. Acupuncture and massage may help as well as yoga and meditation.
Finally, ask your doctor about behavioral modification therapies that “rewire” your pain responses. Biofeedback sessions are geared to this kind of body-mind treatment. Mirror therapy tricks your eyes into seeing your “bad” limb (really the unaffected one) performing. Since the patient does not feel pain when this happens, phantom pain associations diminish after several sessions.
It's important to understand what CRPS Type 1 and Type 2 are first before seeking any treatment plan. The only “wrong” treatment plan for CRPS Type 1 is failing to seek relief in the first place. Some people may ultimately need prescription medications or surgical intervention. But for many others, natural and alternative treatments provide significant relief for complex regional pain.
Dr. Smith's CRPS Protocol
Dr. Smith noticed that all the CRPS patients he was seeing had similar characteristics. They all had some form of lymphedema and they all had low glutathione, the body's primary detoxifier. Genetic characteristics control the configuration of the enzymes that control the production of glutathione. Low glutathione may not manifest itself until there is some sort of stress on the body, such as an operation or injury. Dr. Smith theorized that if lymphatic flow could be improved with proteolytic enzymes which break down larger particles into smaller particles and homeopathic's then some of the lymphedemas could be reduced. The lymphedema itself causes the buildup of inflammatory particles in the lymphatic space.
The second stage of the protocol involves raising glutathione levels in the lymphatic space and everywhere else in the body. The higher levels of glutathione reduce inflammation and help clear toxins. When there is adequate lymphatic flow in the injured space and glutathione levels are normalized the CRPS cycle is broken. While the numbers of patients treated with this protocol are small it has been successful in virtually all patients to date.
Do you or your loved one suffer from CRPS Type 1 or Type 2? Share your experience in the comments section below!