Desensitization Therapy for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)


What is complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), is a type of chronic pain condition. It typically occurs after an injury and usually affects one limb (arm or leg) or extremity (hand or foot). Symptoms include pain, swelling, and changes in skin temperature and color of the affected area.

Although complex regional pain syndrome is not yet completely understood, it is believed that CRPS develops when the central or peripheral nervous system is damaged or malfunctions. It may also be caused by an immune system response.

What is desensitization therapy?

Desensitization therapy is a treatment option for CRPS. It involves gradually exposing the affected area to various sensations over time. This allows the brain to adjust to the sensations with the goal of resetting the nervous system and reducing pain and other symptoms.

What techniques are used in desensitization therapy?

Techniques that may be involved in desensitization therapy include the following:

  • Touching the affected area with materials made of different textures
  • Massaging the affected area
  • Tapping the affected area or applying vibration
  • Placing the affected area in cool or warm water

To reduce symptoms of hyperalgesia and allodynia, desensitization techniques become more graded as treatment progresses. For example, touch of the affected area may start with very soft fabrics and then progress to rougher textures. When the area is exposed to water during therapy, the temperature of the water is gradually cooled or warmed to a temperature the individual can tolerate.

Desensitization therapy is often part of occupational therapy for CRPS, but it can also be completed as part of a home therapy program.

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