RSD Symptoms

All About RSD Symptoms

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) symptoms are discomforting to anyone suffering from this syndrome. This article will define RSD, examine the causes, explain RSD symptoms, and go into detail about treatment options.


This syndrome is part of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which contains Type I and Type II. Type I is often referred to as RSD, while Type II is commonly known as Causalgia. When the nerve injury is not instantly identifiable, it is typically classified as RSD. Deciding which type of CRPS someone has is determined by the symptoms.

RSD symptoms are often noted in women above the age of 50 and after experiencing an injury from anything with extreme force and velocity. However, there have been numerous cases reported of those with RSD from minor injuries such as sprains or after surgery. There is also an increasing number of people under the age of 50 and even adolescents being diagnoses with RSD.


RSD is identified by several different symptoms including pain exceeding that of what is expected from the given injury. RSD symptoms may be relatively hard for those within the medical field to properly diagnosis, typically confusing it for infection or even rheumatoid arthritis. However, the following are typical symptoms associated with the disorder: pain (often burning), sensitivity, diverse skin temperature compared to other body parts, change in color and texture of the skin, swelling, stiffness, and problems moving the affected area.

This syndrome is incredibly frustrating being able to affect not only the nervous system but also bones, skin, blood vessels, and even the muscles surrounding the area. Most cases report these RSD symptoms in the hand and foot, but are also able to be in other areas of the body. Regardless of where it starts, it is very likely that the symptoms will spread to other body parts.

There are three different stages of RSD: acute, dystrophic, and atrophic. The acute stage lasts from one to three months and is typically identified by hair growth, spasms of muscles, pain, skin temperature changes, and skin color changes. The dystrophic stage instead have a decrease in hair, increase in pain, swelling, cracked nails, softer bones, as well as weak muscles. The final stage, atrophic, is when the symptoms may spread to other areas of the body and irreversible damage may occur with mobility of the area being nearly impossible and extremely painful.

In terms of causes, a variety of issues that may lead to RSD symptoms beyond injury and surgery. Radiation therapy, disorders of the spinal chord, heart diseases, infections, diabetes, and even a few medications are able to lead to RSD. However, there are up to 20% of patients who have unknown causes. This makes diagnosis relatively difficult and pinpointing the true cause a time-consuming task.

Most treatment for RSD put an emphasis on reducing the pain and swelling in the affected area, while also making mobility more possible. Common methods of treatment include physical therapy to help with movement, while psychotherapy is also frequent to help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with those with this syndrome. Surgery may prove to be of some help as well as nerve blocks. There are also a variety of medicines commonly prescribed including opioids, antidepressants, steroids, and topical analgesics. Anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants are also used for some treatment plans. Depending on the affected area, stage of RSD, and RSD symptoms causing the most discomfort, doctors tend to prescribe individual plans that will benefit each unique case.

All in all, this syndrome is extremely discomforting and painful resulting in a difference in the physical appearance of the affected area. There are multiple potential causes for RSD and treatment is simply geared at maximizing mobility and minimizing pain without a real cure being available. This syndrome continues to puzzle patients, their family members, and doctors alike.