Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy or RSD is a disease involving an imbalance of the sympathetic nervous system. In this case, it is an intense and chronic pain lasting more than six months, with stiffness and color changes in the skin tone of the affected areas. 

The nerves affected by reflex sympathetic dystrophy are those located on both sides of the spinal cord, which perform the function of controlling some bodily functions, such as opening and closing blood vessels. 

Generally, reflex sympathetic dystrophy affects the hands and feet, although it can also affect the arms and legs at times. Thus, RSD or reflex sympathetic dystrophy is also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, Sudeck’s atrophy, complex regional pain syndrome, reflex neurovascular dystrophy, causalgia, or shoulder girdle syndrome.


Prognosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy


The results are highly variable. The results usually tend to be better in young people, although this can also happen in older individuals. In other cases, despite the treatment, the affected patient will suffer from pain and disability. If treatment is given early, it is possible to limit the disorder, although more information on the development of the disease is needed.


Symptoms of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy


The most essential and definitive symptom of reflex sympathetic dystrophy is prolonged and acute pain, which can become constant, preventing the affected person from living a normal life and even from resting. In some cases, RSD is described as a feeling of pressure, tingling, a burning sensation. Although, in principle, the pathology affects only one limb, this pain can also extend to the opposite limb or along with it. 

Under normal conditions, the affected area is extremely sensitive to pain, as contact with the skin is very painful. This pain is known as allodynia. In turn, patients with this condition can also suffer from changes in temperature, as well as in skin color.

The main symptoms are:


  • Prolonged pain
  • Changes in the color of the skin of the affected area
  • Excessive sweating of the area
  • Stiffness and difficulty moving the affected joints
  • Muscle coordination problems
  • Muscular pain
  • Changes in skin color that may turn red or blue in patches.

Diagnosis for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy


There is no medical examination that can diagnose this pathology. Diagnosis is based on clinical history, as well as on signs of the disease. Diagnosis becomes more complicated as the disorder progresses. The main feature of this problem is the existence of a lesion in the affected area. An MRI or scan may be requested to confirm the diagnosis.


What are the causes of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?


Although the origin of this pathology is still unknown, it is known that in a very high percentage of cases, the syndrome occurs following an injury. Among the most common are the following:


  • Fractures
  • Soft tissue injuries, such as burns or blows.
  • Sprains and/or strains
  • Immobilization of the limb


In this case, the pathology is an abnormal response of the organism, which amplifies the effects of the injury or trauma. It could be compared to an allergic reaction, to which some people overreact while others have no reaction at all. The blood vessels in the limb can dilate and seep fluid into the tissue, and the skin becomes red and swollen. Nearby muscles may not receive oxygen, contracting, or stretching.

Can it be prevented?


Sufficient data are not yet available for this pathology. At the moment, it is known that the only way to avoid or prevent it is to try to avoid the injury from which it originates.


Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Treatments


Therapy administered for this condition frequently employs the following treatments:


  • Rehabilitation and physical therapy: daily exercises that basically keep the affected area moving. Blood flow improves, and circulatory symptoms decrease.
  • Psychotherapy: this pathology frequently has profound psychological effects, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress.
  • Medications: Some medications are effective in treating this condition.
  • Sympathetic nerve block: There have been many cases of patients who have been reported to feel less pain.
  • Surgical sympathectomy: This is an operation that destroys some nerves, although the use of this type of operation generates controversy.
  • Spinal cord stimulation: Electrodes are placed in the spine, although this requires minor surgery.
  • Neurostimulation: practiced in the area of ​​discomfort or where the pain originates.
  • Drug infusion pump: The drug is pumped for pain relief, although there is no evidence that this improves RSD.


Combining over 18 years of experience, Dr. Munish Lal specializes in minimally invasive techniques to treat Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy that includes intervention procedures, spinal cord stimulation, and a comprehensive array of traditional pain management services.

His expertise ranges from diagnosing complicated and rare cases to pinpointing the source of back, neck, and other chronic pain conditions. He is a leading practitioner of state-of-the-art techniques. Call now to book your appointment!


CALL 424-254-3592