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Keywords:

  • complex regional pain syndrome;
  • reflex sympathetic dystrophy;
  • evidence based medicine;
  • nerve block;
  • sympathetic block;
  • spinal cord stimulation

Abstract

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy is a pain syndrome with an unclear pathophysiology and unpredictable clinical course. The disease is often therapy resistant, the natural course not always favorable. The diagnosis of CRPS is based on signs and symptoms derived from medical history and physical examination. Pharmacological pain management and physical rehabilitation of limb function are the main pillars of therapy and should be started as early as possible. If, however, there is no improvement of limb function and persistent severe pain, interventional pain management techniques may be considered.

Intravenous regional blocks with guanethidine did not prove superior to placebo but frequent side effects occurred.Therefore this technique receives a negative recommendation (2 A–). Sympathetic block is the interventional treatment of first choice and has a 2 B+ rating. Ganglion stellatum (stellate ganglion) block with repeated local anesthetic injections or by radiofrequency denervation after positive diagnostic block is documented in prospective and retrospective trials in patients suffering from upper limb CRPS. Lumbar sympathetic blocks can be performed with repeated local anesthetic injections. For a more prolonged lumbar sympathetic block radiofrequency treatment is preferred over phenol neurolysis because effects are comparable whereas the risk for side effects is lower (2 B+). For patients suffering from CRPS refractory to conventional treatment and sympathetic blocks, plexus brachialis block or continuous epidural infusion analgesia coupled with exercise therapy may be tried (2 C+). Spinal cord stimulation is recommended if other treatments fail to improve pain and dysfunction (2 B+). Alternatively peripheral nerve stimulation can be considered, preferentially in study conditions (2 C+).