What is RSD? Everything You Need to Know


January 17, 2023

Are you or someone in your family dealing with intense and unexplained pain? It might be Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a chronic condition that causes severe and persistent pain. Though the exact cause of RSD is unknown, some believe it originates from an overly sensitive nervous system that sends frequent and exaggerated signals to the brain.

The good news is that with proper diagnosis and treatment, RSD can be managed effectively—although, unfortunately, it cannot always be cured. Read on to learn more about what exactly RSD is, explain the various symptoms of this disorder, and discuss common methods of treatment available today treating in RSD. 

What is RSD?

RSD is a complex chronic condition that causes severe burning pain in the affected area. It usually appears after an injury or trauma to the extremities of the body, such as hands and feet, but can also occur without any known reason. Because RSD results from nerve damage caused by an overly sensitive nervous system, it affects people differently—some may experience burning, stabbing pain, while others feel a continual ache.

Signs and Symptoms of RSD

The most common symptom of RSD is intense burning or stabbing pain in an area of your body that is out of proportion to any injury or trauma you may have experienced. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Changes in skin temperature: Parts of your skin may feel unusually hot or cold compared to other unaffected areas.
  • Changes in skin color: Your skin may appear blotchy, red, pale, or bluish purple.
  • Changes in skin texture: Your skin may become extremely dry, flaky, or excessively sweaty.
  • Swelling: There may be swelling around the affected area due to inflammation caused by RSD.
  • Weakness: Muscles near the affected area can become weak due to nerve damage caused by RSD.
  • Loss of range of motion: Joints near the affected area may become stiff and lose their range of motion due to nerve damage caused by RSD.

What Causes RSD?

The exact cause of RSD is unknown, but many experts believe an overly sensitive nervous system causes it. The nerve damage caused by this condition results in the body sending frequent and exaggerated pain signals to the brain, leading to severe and persistent pain associated with RSD.

In some cases, trauma or injury may trigger RSD, while the condition may occur without any known cause in other cases.

How is RSD Diagnosed and Treated?

RSD can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can vary from person to person. Doctors need to ask questions about the type and location of pain, as well as any previous injuries or traumas that may have triggered the condition. Doctors may also use imaging tests such as X-rays and MRI scans to help identify damaged nerves.

RSD is often treated with a combination of medications, physical therapy, and other lifestyle modifications.

  • Pain relievers such as NSAIDs or opioids may be prescribed to reduce the intensity of the pain associated with RSD. Additionally, corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation in the affected area and improve overall mobility.
  • Physical therapy is also an important part of treating RSD, as it can help strengthen muscles in the affected area and increase flexibility
  • Other modalities like transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or biofeedback may also be used to help manage pain
  • A doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes such as avoiding stress triggers, practicing relaxation exercises like yoga, or finding ways to engage in activities that promote positivity

Other treatments for RSD may include;

  • Nerve blocks
  • Epidural injections
  • Surgery in certain cases
  • Cryotherapy (cold application)
  • Heat therapy
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Acupuncture

Who Gets RSD?

RSD can affect anyone but is more likely to occur in those who have experienced a traumatic event, such as an injury or surgery. It is also known to be more common among those with conditions like diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

Schedule an Appointment Today!

RSD is a painful condition that can significantly impact daily life. While there is no surefire cure for RSD, many treatments available allow people to live pain-free and comfortable lives, from physical therapy to medication. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or need help finding the right RSD treatment, ask for professional help.

The dedicated staff of SEPSC are experienced in treating those with RSD and help determine the best course of action for you. Please fill out the form below to contact us for personalized care and guidance, and let us give you a helping hand along your journey toward healing and managing your RSD symptoms.