A clinical approach to complex regional pain syndrome

Robert N Harden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The clinical approach to complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is complicated by a lack of precision diagnostically, and a lack of evidence- based information for treatment. The vagaries of diagnosis were somewhat improved by the Orlando Conference (1993), where a consensus panel of experts developed a new taxonomy and criteria. Unfortunately the criteria can be based entirely on subjective grounds (patient history), and as such provides a very sensitive but not very specific device. There is some effort in the research community to amend these criteria to make them more specific. We encourage the practicing physician to include as much objective data along with the quasi-objective and subjective information currently used in formulating the diagnosis. This imprecision in diagnostic issues has significantly hampered treatment because it has not led to solid, generalizable, randomized controlled trials. To date there are no substantial scientific trials of any particular therapy or medication in the specific diagnosis of CRPS. Much can be inferred from the work with peripheral neuropathy and central pain. However, it is unlikely that this will be a perfect concordance with best therapy for CRPS. It remains our responsibility to diagnose each patient as best we can, supported by the best possible objective signs and testing. Once the diagnosis is made it is necessary to proceed in a pragmatic empirical way, following the best guidelines available. The guidelines should be considered a 'rough sketch' and the key to clinical success will be flexibility, a vast fund of the available knowledge, patience, and compassion. To allow the deficiencies in the science to paralyze the clinical process is therapeutic nihilism, and not acceptable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S26-S32
JournalClinical Journal of Pain
Issue number2 SUPPL.
StatePublished - Jun 2000


  • CRPS
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
  • Empirical treatment
  • Guidelines
  • RSD
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
  • Taxonomic and diagnostic issues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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