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Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2003 Jan;84(1):141-6.

Pharmacologic treatment of complex regional pain syndrome I: a conceptual framework.

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  • 1Rehabilitation Center Rijndam, Institute of Rehabilitation, Erasmus Medical Center, The Netherlands.


Pain may be a leading symptom in complex regional pain syndrome type I (CRPS I) and may hinder functional recovery. In this case, a pharmacotherapeutic approach to pain should be part of the individually tailored interdisciplinary treatment regimen. However, operational criteria for determining which patient may profit from what therapeutic intervention are lacking. This article discusses a conceptual framework in which the rapid progress made in basic pain research may contribute to the clinical management of pain in CRPS I. First, recent insights in the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying CRPS I are reviewed. CRPS I is considered a neuropathic pain syndrome with a mixed and time-dependent profile of a regional inflammation, sensitization of primary somatosensory afferents (peripheral sensitization), and sensitization of spinal neurons (central sensitization). The dominant mechanisms may vary across individual patients with different time profiles. Second, a model was constructed in which signs and symptoms in an individual patient are related to these mechanisms. Finally, relating the clinical picture to the underlying pathophysiology may help determine the pharmacotherapeutic approach for an individual patient. Pharmacologic options are discussed in this context. The presented framework does not aim to provide an evidence-based treatment algorithm, ready to be used in daily clinical practice; rather it offers a crude, first step toward a mechanism-based pharmacotherapy in CRPS I, in an effort to shift from a mainly empirical treatment paradigm toward theory-driven treatment procedures.

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