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My Simple Way of Explaining Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

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My nerves just don’t know how to be nerves.

When people ask what complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is, this is the first thing I tell them. People will usually chuckle, some will look confused and others will ask questions. I then go on to better explain just what CRPS is in the way it was explained to me when I was diagnosed as a teenager.

CRPS is caused by a short circuit in the spinal cord that mixes up pain signals. After an injury such as a broken toe, a person without CRPS might feel pain at the time of injury and for a few days later. The broken toe sends an injury signal to the brain and the brain sends back a pain signal which causes the pain, inflammation and bruising. For a person with CRPS, the broken toe will send the injury signal to the brain which will send the pain signal to the toe, except the signals get mixed up in that short circuit and continue to send constant pain signals for weeks, months and years. With the constant pain signals being sent throughout my body, it causes color changes, temperature changes, inflammation and other various symptoms.

My nerves are always overreacting to everything: a blood draw, a bump, a broken bone. My nervous system is like a drama queen that brings on its own drama at the expense of my body. Constantly having to fight against my own body causes other symptoms such as fatigue and insomnia.

Of course there is much more to the diagnosis than everything stated above but it is hard to explain and, to be honest, I don’t even understand everything. The human body is so complex that even doctors do not know everything. So when people ask me what CRPS is, I simply say, “My nerves just don’t know how to be nerves.”

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Thinkstock photo via staras.

Originally published: March 10, 2017
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