What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?


If you have ever broken a bone or dislocated your shoulder, you’ve witnessed the healing powers of the body. It may take some time, but the inflammation gradually fades and your range of motion returns to normal. But for someone who suffers from reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), the pain doesn’t go away after an initial injury heals. In fact, the full extent of nerve and tissue damage related to the trauma often isn’t seen until months or years later.

If you suffer from chronic pain and receive a RSD diagnosis that can be traced to a workplace injury, you may qualify for workers’ compensation that will pay for your medical care and ongoing disability benefits.

What is reflex sympathetic dystrophy?

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is a condition that is characterized by intense pain, swelling, and tenderness of an extremity. It is often accompanied by sweating, warmth or coolness, flushing, and/or discoloration of the skin. RSD is also referred to as complex regional pain syndrome, as it usually affects one or more of the four limbs and can spread to additional areas. The condition is considered a progressive disease of the sympathetic nervous system and is ranked as the most intense form of chronic pain on the McGill Pain Index.

What causes reflex sympathetic dystrophy?

While doctors aren’t sure what causes RSD, there are a variety of events that can trigger the condition, including:

  • Fracture

  • Sprain

  • Surgery

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke and brain injuries

  • Damage to blood vessels

  • Shingles

  • Degenerative arthritis of the neck

  • Shoulder problems

  • Breast cancer

  • Burns

  • Radiation therapy

In approximately 30 percent of RSD cases, the cause for intense chronic pain arising from a relatively minor trauma isn’t established. However, that doesn’t make the symptoms of the condition any less debilitating.

What are the symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy?

The onset of RSD varies from person to person. For some, the symptoms appear gradually. It can begin as stiffness, discomfort, or weakness in the affected area. For others, the condition develops suddenly and causes severe pain, stiffness, and extreme sensitivity. With RSD, the pain often spreads beyond the area of the initial injury and is more severe than the original trauma. Additional symptoms in the early stages of RSD include redness, tenderness, localized sweating, and limited mobility.

After three to six months, the symptoms of RSD transition from the acute stage to the dystrophic stage. At this time, the pain becomes more intense and the range of motion increasingly restricted. The skin may appear discolored and blue due to the lack of blood flow to the area. The long-term effects of RSD, referred to as the atrophic stage, can result in complete loss of motion and function in the affected body part. Muscle mass may decrease, and x-rays often reveal osteoporosis.

You may qualify for workers’ compensation

Many individuals in the advanced stage of reflex sympathetic dystrophy lose complete use of their hand or foot, making it impossible for them to return to work. If you suffer from chronic pain related to an old workplace injury, it’s important to continue seeking treatment from your doctor. Your pain and suffering could be a result of reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which can have a long-term impact on your health and quality of life.

The attorneys at Gerald Brody & Associates can help

When it comes to choosing a workers’ compensation lawyer to defend your rights to medical care and disability benefits, no one knows the system better than Gerald Brody & Associates. We have experience handling all types of trauma cases, and will fight tooth and nail to ensure you receive maximum payment for your losses. Give us a call today at (619) 528-9800 to schedule your free consultation.