Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a condition that's often misunderstood, both medically and psychologically.
One common misconception is that CRPS is caused by psychological factors like anxiety and depression.
There's a common assumption that CRPS may be triggered by anxiety or depression.
However, this idea largely stems from the condition's unpredictable nature and the fact that CRPS patients often exhibit heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Yet, research tells us a different story.
While psychological factors may not cause CRPS, living with the condition can often leads to serious emotional distress.
“When am I going to be back to normal? But no one can tell ya. That plays a big part, I think. The mental side of it is probably worse than the pain side of it. So, I reckon it’s the stress of it all”
[This CRPS].... just takes all of the pleasure out of your life”
“I call it the Beast. So how do you adjust with living with this beast that has the ability to rear its head and potentially take over my life. All I can do is just lie back as much as I can. So yeah it is quite overwhelming at times”
Most studies provide compelling evidence that CRPS patients are more anxious and depressed than healthy controls (although CRPS patients are not more anxious or depressed than people with other types of chronic pain).
Once a person has CRPS, their emotional state can indeed influence the condition's symptoms. Anxiety and stress tend to exacerbate CRPS symptoms, adding another layer of complexity to its management.
It's a cyclic relationship: CRPS can cause emotional distress, and emotional distress can in turn make CRPS symptoms worse.
“Seeing the psychologist has helped a lot. That’s made a huge difference. I guess I really needed someone to talk to and sort of guide me through…"
The relationship between CRPS, anxiety, and depression is complex but it's clear that psychological factors are not the root cause of CRPS. More research is being done, but it's clear that effective treatment needs to focus on both the physical and emotional challenges of living with CRPS.
Sources for this post:
TrainPain is the Grand Prize winner in the 2023 innovation competition of the American Academy of Pain Medicine & MIT Hacking Medicine