What Is RSD

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is a form of Complex Regional Pain Sydrome (CRPS), and goes by many names, including chronic reflex sympathetic dystrophy, reflex neurovascular dystrophy, algoneurodystrophy, causalgia, sympathetically maintained pain, Sudek’s syndrome, and clenched fist syndrome.

About 5-6 million Americans suffer from RSD. It is a disease that is poorly understood by doctors and patients alike. It often goes unrecognized because its symptoms can mimic other diseases.

The mechanism of action of RSD is not known and the actual cause of the disease is usually a precipitating traumatic event. In about a third of cases, the actual precipitating event is not known. There are multiple precipitating factors that tell us who gets RSD the most and who does not. These include:

  • Previous surgery
  • Crush injuries to the affected area
  • Deep lacerations
  • Burns, particularly electrical burns
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Cervical or lumbar disk disease
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome
  • Isoniazid therapy
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Sustaining a fracture

RSD occurs most frequently between the ages of 30 and 60 but it can affect people of any age. It affects females more commonly than males. Statistics on RSD are kept at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. It occurs in 2-5 percent of people who sustain a peripheral nerve injury. It affects 12-21 percent of those who develop partial paralysis on one side of the body and about 1-2 percent of bone fractures cause RSD as a secondary phenomenon.

As you can see elsewhere in this website, chronic RSD has three stages: acute, dystrophic and atrophic. In many cases, RSD arises out of trauma, including trauma from lacerations, sprains, burns, fractures or surgery, even if the surgery was successful.
As for the pathogenesis (mechanism of injury) of RSD, doctors speculate that the problem lies in the peripheral nerves, in the peripheral soft tissue or as a problem in the spinal cord itself.

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy has several known treatments. Some treatments are home-based folk remedies while others are cutting-edge medical and surgical treatments. RSD can be extremely debilitating, causing disability in many areas of one’s life.

Living with RSD is an important consideration, since it is a condition that people often won’t completely recover from. This means long term pain management from a medical and spiritual perspective. Living with chronic pain can lead to depression, anxiety and other mental disorders that can be helped by properly managing the pain and discomfort. RSD is difficult to treat but strides can be made with the right therapy.

RSD isn’t alone in causing chronic post traumatic pain, and this site provides information on topics from causation to symptoms to treatments.  RSD is not a common disease but it greatly affects the lives and lifestyles of its sufferers. The goal of this website is to help people understand why the disease occurs, what it looks like and how it can be managed in daily life.

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