Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) occurs following trauma to nerves in the arms, legs, feet or hands. Often, the disease begins after a crush injury, but RSD also can occur following surgery, radiation therapy, burns or infections. Researchers don’t fully understand RSD’s causes, though one recent study suggests it could result from a disease of the small blood vessels that supply oxygen to the muscle cells. For that reason, hyperbaric oxygen therapy frequently provides RSD sufferers with relief, when no other treatments can.
RSD causes continual and chronic pain. Patients also experience muscle spasms, swelling, excessive perspiration, burning sensations, extreme sensitivity to light and touch, headaches, and skin discoloration. The disease shatters lives. It’s no wonder most RSD victims also suffer with depression.
To treat RSD, doctors frequently prescribe narcotic pain killers. When these don’t work, physicians give patients injections in the neck called stellate ganglion or sympathetic blocks. A few RSD sufferers will respond well to these right away, but others will face having the shots for the rest of their lives. Surgeons may also implant morphine pumps or expensive spinal cord stimulators that require ongoing monthly monitoring. But even these radical treatments may fail to control an RSD patient’s pain or make significant long-term improvements. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can reduce or stop RSD pain in many cases.
One research study performed HBOT on 15 patients with RSD symptoms whose condition had failed to improve using other treatments. Researchers based their clinical diagnosis on long-standing pain, tenderness, swelling, vasomotor instability, and joint stiffness. Using radiographic testing, the study confirmed that subjects had bone demineralization and osteoporosis commonly seen in patients with RSD.
After the first week of HBOT therapy, 9 out of the 15 patients reported a marked reduction of pain and tenderness in their extremities. Three of these patients showed discrete clinical improvement. Throughout the HBOT treatments, patients’ swelling went down and movement in the affected extremities improved.
When the first cycle of HBOT ended, four of the 15 patients had completely recovered. They had no pain and their normal joint movement was restored. Five patients showed marked clinical improvement, and reported occasional tenderness with minimal swelling that occurred just at night. Their joint movement returned almost to normal. Four patients showed moderate clinical improvement following the HBOT, their pain and swelling were reduced and motion was partially restored. Two patients experienced reduced swelling, with some pain that persisted. Four patients had a partial relapse of symptoms and had an additional 10 sessions of HBOT, after which they recovered completely.
In a 2015 study published in Pain Research and Management, researchers from Toronto gave hyperbaric oxygen therapy to a 41-year-old male patient with RSD/CRPS. He had suffered with severe pain in his left foot for a year, following an ankle fracture. After three weeks of HBOT treatments, his pain lessened, swelling went down, skin color improved, range of motion returned, and he became less pain-sensitive to skin contact. The researchers concluded, HBOT may be considered as a valuable therapeutic tool in the treatment of long-standing complex regional pain syndrome. And the patient returned to work for the first time in a year!
If you would like to learn more about RSD and how HBOT can help, visit the RSD section on this website.
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