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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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What Teachers Should Know

People with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) — also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS) — have ongoing burning or throbbing pain in the arms, legs, hands, or feet.

Pain usually starts after an injury or surgery. Emotional stress may play a part too. It’s not clear why some people get CRPS. But it’s probably due to a combination of problems in the nervous system and immune system, and a person’s genes.

Besides pain, other CRPS symptoms can include:

  • swelling and sensitivity in the affected area
  • changes in skin temperature and color in the affected area
  • changes in hair and nail growth
  • joint stiffness and swelling
  • muscle spasms and weakness
  • trouble moving the affected body part

Physical therapy and occupational therapy, counseling, and medicines can help people with CRPS get better. Most kids and teens with CRPS recover over time.

Students with CRPS may:

  • need assistive equipment for writing
  • need special seating arrangements or to move around if they have discomfort
  • need to use a heating pad
  • need to visit the school nurse for medicines during pain flare-ups
  • need to avoid being bumped in the hallway or classroom
  • need additional time to move between classes if their mobility is impaired
  • have trouble concentrating and be tired in class due to sleep problems
  • benefit from having an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 education plan

What Teachers Can Do

Students with CRPS might miss class time and school days due to physical and emotional distress and medical appointments. They should get extra time to do their assignments.

Encourage your student with CRPS to be involved in school and extracurricular activities, and to stay connected with classmates. While exercise can improve symptoms, students might need extra support during gym class and to limit their activity due to pain.

Ask before touching your student with CRPS — even a pat on the shoulder could cause pain. Students with CRPS also might be sensitive to loud noise, so check before having your student sit near loudspeakers, intercoms, and school bells.

If your student is sensitive to cold temperatures, check their IEP or 504 plan before sending the student outside for recess.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2020