RSD from Electrical Injuries

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is thought to involve the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is a part of the peripheral nervous system, as opposed to the central nervous system (CNS) that includes the brain and spinal cord. The ANS controls many of the body’s “automated” functions, including breathing, heartbeat, digestion, perspiration.

Therefore, anything that causes injury to the autonomic nervous system — such as electrical injuries — can also result in RSD. Sometimes electrical injuries produce obvious peripheral nerve damage, while at other times the injury is more subtle and not immediately observable. The injury may be directly to the peripheral nerves in the limbs, but also may be to the spinal cord or brain — and yet the symptoms may manifest as RSD in one or more of the limbs.

Those instances of symptoms resulting without apparent injury to the nerves would fall into the category of CRPS-I, or RSD. Those with obvious nerve, spinal cord, or brain injury would be considered CRPS-II, or causalgia.

Historically, these types of injuries were first noted as the result of lightning strikes, but as electrical injuries became more common it was concluded that the same mechanism of injury was present. In one study of forty-five patients with electrical burns, a total of fifteen developed CRPS-II (causalgia).

Electrical injuries, even those that don’t show major physical injuries such as electrical burns, are a significant source of RSD and causalgia.