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The Different Stages of CRPS Explained

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a perplexing, poorly understood and unpredictable condition that occurs in different stages.


CRPS sufferers experience persistent severe pain, however, aside from having that in common, the debilitating disorder can be very different for everyone. The onset of CRPS may be rapid or gradual, with the pain affecting one limb or spreading to other areas of the body. Although the condition has several signs and symptoms, not everyone will experience them all. In addition, CRPS has recognised stages, however, not every sufferer will go through each of them. In this blog, we look at these different stages and explain how this complex, often confusing condition, can change. Read on to find out more.

There are three main stages of CRPS, which is also referred to as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS). A person can experience these different stages in different parts of the body simultaneously. However, not every sufferer will go through each of the CRPS stages in turn. Some people may remain in one phase, while others will not go through any of the stages at all. The time frames of each stage will also differ greatly for individuals.

Stage 1: Acute

Sometimes referred to as the ‘dysfunction stage’ this usually lasts anything up to three months. The symptoms include extreme burning pain, which lasts longer than would be considered normal from the injury, swelling of the limb or extremity, increased sensitivity when the limb or extremity is touched, and skin redness and warmth. During this stage, the sufferer is likely to experience excessive sweating and a rapid increase in hair and nail growth. There may also be some joint stiffness.

Changes in circulation lead many patients to report a variation in skin colour ranging from red to blue, black, purple, or white, with blotches or spots also occurring. Skin temperature can suddenly change and, in this phase, sufferers may hear the term ‘Warm/Hot CRPS’ being used as affected limbs feel considerably warmer than other parts of the body. As the condition progresses, this will give way to the chronic phase when the affected limb will experience ‘Cold CRPS’.

Stage 2: Dystrophic

This phase may last between 3-6 months and is known as the dystrophic stage because of muscle weakness due to the lack of use of the affected limb. The burning pain becomes much worse at this point and has usually spread from the initial area with hypersensitivity to touch and persistent swelling a real issue.

Thinning, wrinkling or wasting of the skin is often a concern during Stage 2, and it can turn a bluish colour due to lack of circulation or poor oxygen in the blood. Muscle tissue and bone may start to deteriorate and nails and hair change in consistency as growth becomes erratic.

Stage 3: Atrophic

Usually, the sufferer reaches this stage after approximately six months to one year. Skin around the affected area tends to become paler, stretched, shiny, cool to the touch and dry, occasionally leading to ulcers and cracks.

A person may experience unmanageable pain and irreversible muscle atrophy during this period with some patients experiencing this third stage of CRPS in all parts of the body.

Health professionals and researchers have discussed a fourth stage of CRPS but will not conclusively agree that it exists. The majority of patients diagnosed with CRPS will not experience the most advanced, so-called ‘Stage Four’.

Here at Brian Barr Solicitors, we are not medical experts. We do however, provide these articles so that CRPS sufferers and their families can be as informed as possible about the condition.
As leading CRPS solicitors, our speciality lies with handling chronic pain compensation for a range of sufferers, including those who have been diagnosed with CRPS. If you believe your condition has developed as a result of an accident or injury that was not your fault, then you could be owed compensation. To find out more, get in touch with our team; call us for free on 0161 737 9248 or click here to fill in our online contact form.

We do not endorse any research, studies or sources mentioned within our blogs and comments. Furthermore, we do not endorse any medical advice provided, and would strongly recommend anyone seeking medical advice to contact their local healthcare provider.

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3 responses to “The Different Stages of CRPS Explained

  1. I find this all incredibly off. My daughter is 11, has had it since she was 9. 6-7 individual flares the longest lasting 5 weeks and also now 14+ weeks in. Stages have never happened. We go from fine to immobile overnight. Skin changes happen immediately. Atrophy immediately. Full body within weeks, with nothing medical triggering it. Our medical professionals offer no medications or blocks or pain help for pediatric patients so we have nothing spurring spread just the disease itself. We started frequency specific microcurrent which has completely taken away the pain, allodinia, and has unlocked the joints so that she can begin to build muscle again. Our medical community locally has been worthless in getting on the road to healing, they haven’t even offered any help for the sake of being humane. We’ve had to go alone and find alternative treatment and have had to piece the puzzle together on our own. CRPS is a tragedy and the way that the medical community abandons these children to the pain is malpractice.

  2. I have CRPS , I was diagnosed in 2007. It started in my ankle, I woke up with it hurting I broke it when I was a teen-ager. I have been living with this for 11years. I would really like to know if there are any support groups for CRPS suffer??? I know I can’t be the ONLY person! I know there’s not any Dr’s in my area who gives a shit about this disease!!!! Would love to talk to someone who knows what I’m talking about.

    .help please

    1. Hi Traci, thank you for sharing your story. You are definitely not the only person and we certainly care about your disease. You are not alone. There are many CRPS support groups. We would recommend visiting the Burning Nights website, as they are a CRPS charity who host fundraisers and provide helpful advice to sufferers. The website address is as follows: We have also previously written a blog to provide some great blog links for chronic pain sufferers, here: // We hope this helps, Traci.

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