Complex regional pain syndrome: Are there distinct subtypes and sequential stages of the syndrome?

Stephen Bruehl*, Robert N Harden, Bradley S. Galer, Samuel Saltz, Miroslav Backonja, Michael Stanton-Hicks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

244 Scopus citations


This study tested for evidence supporting the clinical lore of three sequential stages of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and examined the characteristics of possible CRPS subtypes. A series of 113 patients meeting IASP criteria for CRPS underwent standardized history and physical examinations to assess CRPS signs and symptoms in four domains identified in previous research: pain/sensory abnormalities, vasomotor dysfunction, edema/sudomotor dysfunction, and motor/trophic changes. K-Means cluster analysis was used to derive three relatively homogeneous CRPS patient subgroups based on similarity of sign/symptom patterns in these domains. The resulting CRPS subgroups did not differ significantly regarding pain duration as might be expected in a sequential staging model. However, the derived subgroups were statistically-distinct, and suggested three possible CRPS subtypes: (1) a relatively limited syndrome with vasomotor signs predominating, (2) a relatively limited syndrome with neuropathic pain/sensory abnormalities predominating, and (3) a florid CRPS syndrome similar to 'classic RSD' descriptions. Subtype 3 showed the highest levels of motor/trophic signs and possible disuse-related changes (osteopenia) on bone scan, despite having directionally the briefest pain duration of the three groups. EMG/NCV testing suggests that Subtype 2 may reflect CRPS-Type 2 (causalgia). Overall, these results are consistent with limited previous work that argues against three sequential stages of CRPS. However, several distinct CRPS subtypes are suggested, and these could ultimately have utility in targeting treatment more effectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-124
Number of pages6
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 29 2002


  • Causalgia
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Diagnosis
  • Patient subtypes
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • Stages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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