If you have had the unfortunate experience of being recently diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, it is quite likely that you are currently feeling frustrated, hopeless, and sad. You likely initiated the visit to your doctor to get relief from the pain and numerous other symptoms that you are experiencing – not to be told that you have a pain syndrome. The good news is, there IS hope. Physical therapists may assist in many ways with your treatment. Continue reading to learn about this medical condition and the treatments available to you.

Swollen Foot

What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is a multi-system disorder. It is now most often referred to as “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome” or “CRPS”. Patients have severe levels of long-term pain. To date, two unique types have been discovered.

The first is one that does not result from a nerve injury.

The second results from a specific injury to the nerves.

It is a condition that involves the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, and the immune system.

How Does Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Affect the Systems of the Body?

In the following, we will outline each of the main body systems impacted by Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and what occurs with these systems:

  1. The Central Nervous System – This body system includes the brain, the spinal cord, and all associated membranes. When you have RSD, it could result in increased levels of sensitivity with the central nervous system. As a result, it results in the CNS becoming a little too overprotective. This means that normal things – such as your shirt softly brushing against the skin – becomes painful.
  2. The Peripheral Nervous System – This includes the nerves that are located outside of the central nervous system and go to the limbs. This system sends various types of danger signals from the skin, the muscles, the joints, the bones, and other structures of the body to the central nervous system. If an injury has occurred with these nerves or not, a hypersensitivity may develop. In turn, this will make YOU hypersensitive to pain.
  3. The Autonomic Nervous System – This nervous system in the body is the one that regulates your breathing, the heart rate, your digestion, and other types of functions that are automatic in the body. This includes the “fight or flight” response. If individuals experience a chronic level of stress or anxiety, they may develop an increased level of sensitivity – especially in the central nervous system. As a result, those “automatic” functions – such as digestion – may also experience increased sensitivity.
  4. The Immune System – This system is one that is capable of detecting various types of dangers in the body. It then sends chemicals that are inflammatory in nature to combat the issue. This automatically increases the level of sensitivity with the nerves. As a result, higher levels of pain are experienced in the body.
Woman Holding Painful Foot

What are the Symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?

There are numerous symptoms associated with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. The good news is, most of these symptoms may be treated by a physical therapist. The following outlines the most commonly experienced by those diagnosed with this medical condition:

  • Sensitivity to Touch
  • Pain When Touched
  • Temperature Variations in the Affected Limb or Limbs
  • Color Variations in the Affected Limb or Limbs
  • Awkward Positions with Affected Limb or Limbs
  • Guarded Usage of the Body Part That is in Pain
  • Disassociation from the Impacted Body Part
  • Change in Appearance of Aspects of Impacted Body Part
  • Swelling of Tissues
  • Swelling of Joints
  • Increased Sweating in Impacted Region
  • Severe Pain
  • Sleep Complications
  • Irritability and/or Agitation
  • Memory Problems
  • Cognitive Complications
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased Sex Desire and/or Drive
  • Experiencing Discomfort in Everyday Activities – Like Showering
  • Pins and Needles Pain
  • Burning Pain Sensations
  • Stabbing or Throbbing Pain
  • Grinding Pain

It should be noted that the pain experienced with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy may or may not have a noted culprit. For example, needles and pins pain may occur in the right lower leg; however, it may seem as if the pain came out of nowhere and for no reason. While there IS an underlying cause for the pain, the sufferer may not always KNOW what the underlying cause is that caused the issue to occur.

Foot Pain

How is RSD Diagnosed?

In most instances, a pain management specialist or a neurologist will likely diagnose the condition.

Many patients find that a physical therapist is the first person to diagnose Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. This is because most people who develop the condition do so after experiencing some type of trauma to the body.

In most instances, the physical therapist is working with the patient and recognizes the condition. If this is the case, the doctor you have and the physical therapist will work together to determine what is considered to be the absolute best level of care.

How a Physical Therapist Will Help with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

A physical therapist will play a highly vital role in the treatment of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Being that the way the condition varies from one person to another, the treatment plan will vary from one person to another. A physical therapist not only creates a treatment plan, but helps you in achieving the personal goals that you have. They have a strong desire to help you improve your overall quality of life and will do what it takes to get you from where you are to where you want to be. The following outlines a few of the top strategies on how a physical therapist will help you with the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy that you have been diagnosed with:

  1. First, the therapist will interview you and inquire about your condition and the symptoms that you experience.
  2. The healthcare professional will then ask questions in an effort to determine what triggers the symptoms that you have. Does it act up when you are at work? What about when you perform certain activities? Are you able to complete activities of daily living without a flare-up or do the symptoms show themselves while doing these activities?
  3. The physical therapist will ask many questions pertaining to stressors, feared movements, your quality of sleep, and any types of issues pertaining to your level of nutrition.
  4. A physical examination will be performed to test out the body and how it reacts to the activities that you must engage in with the test.
  5. The physical therapist will determine if the symptoms that you experience with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is caused by an injury to the tissues of your body or if it is a level of increased sensitivity with the nervous system.
  6. A physical therapist will take all of the information that they have obtained and come up with a treatment plan. They will educate you on the condition that you suffer from and outline all of the ways that they will help you. Before, during, and after the treatment that you receive, the physical therapist will provide a steady level of patient education.
  7. Physical therapy specialists will help optimize your movement and functionality by working through movement therapy with you.
  8. A PT will help by having you engage in range-of-motion exercises. This will aid in decreasing tension located in the muscles and in the joints of the body. It will also help increase your personal level of tolerance for other types of physical activities.
  9. Muscle weakness and various types of imbalances can result in the worsening of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. A physical therapist will focus on muscle strengthening. This will be progressive and will lead to you being able to better handle your symptoms.
  10. In addition to all of the above, a physical therapist will help you in many other ways. These include working with you in manual therapy sessions, functional training, relaxation exercises, decreasing systemic-based inflammation, and other treatments. These may include an anti-gravity treadmill session, water therapy, and more!
Hand Pain Treatment

Contact Us Today

We here at Back to Motion Physical Therapy know and understand the complications that you are experiencing with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Living day-to-day with intense pain and discomfort is extremely difficult. We are here to help you manage the symptoms that you suffer from. We can help you become stronger and have a stronger range-of-motion. We encourage you to call today to obtain the assistance that you need.

We work with all of our clients in order to create a customized care plan. We know that each patient is unique and each patient’s care plan should be unique, too. Our goal is to ensure the optimal outcome for your health. In addition to standard physical therapy, we specialize in a large assortment of other types of therapies. We also have the anti-gravity treadmill, vestibular therapy, dry needling, and a multitude of other ways of assisting you. If you would like to learn more or want to set up an appointment, we encourage you to call us today at: 303-832-5577

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