Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and the role of sympathectomy in the management : a review.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is an extremely debilitating condition, characterized by chronic pain with associated trophic changes. The 1st description of this condition dates back to 1864. The condition has been variously described over the years as “causalgia”, “Sudeck’s dystrophy” and “reflex sympathetic dystrophy”. In 1993 the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) introduced the term Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) with diagnostic criteria that are currently used. CRPS was subdivided into type I and type II. CRPS type I is diagnosed when there is no obvious nerve injury, whereas CRPS type II refers to cases with nerve injury. It follows that the present diagnostic criteria depend solely on meticulous history and physical examination without any confirmation by specific gold standard tests. The pathophysiology of this pain syndrome is poorly understood; however there is growing evidence for an inflammatory or sympathetic cause. It is therefore not surprising that there is no uniform approach to its management. Therapy is often based on a multi-disciplinary team approach with use of non –pharmacological therapy (physiotherapy and occupational therapy), pharmacological therapy (analgesics, neuroleptics, bone metabolism drugs), and invasive therapy (stellate ganglion blocks and sympathectomy). This review acknowledges the humble beginnings of this condition, and provides an understanding for the evolution of its terminology. It objectively reviews the current IASP diagnostic criteria, challenging its efficacy and sensitivity. Despite its pathophysiology remaining an enigma, the latest pathophysiological advances are reviewed in the endeavour to better understand this condition and enhance treatment options. The role of surgical sympathectomy for this condition is reviewed, highlighting its importance and underappreciated success in the management of CRPS.