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Gwinnett Medical Center

What Is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy?

Woman holding her arm.
While healing from a hand or foot injury, you may have unexpected pain.

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is also known as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). It is a painful nerve problem that occasionally occurs in the hand or foot that has been hurt. If untreated, the pain and weakness that RSD may cause can limit use of the injured region.

What Triggers RSD?

Getting injured may trigger RSD. It can be something minor, like a sprain or a cut. Or, it may be more severe, like a fracture. As you’re healing, you may feel new, severe pain in the injured region. That pain may spread through the injured limb. Over time, other symptoms may appear.

Symptoms and Signs of RSD

Symptoms and signs of RSD can begin right away, or may not show up until about 2 weeks after you get hurt. If you aren’t treated soon, the symptoms can worsen or change over time. Below are symptoms and signs that can occur in the injured region:

Early-Stage RSD

Symptoms include:

  • Severe, burning pain

  • Sensitive to touch (pain from physical contact that normally would not be painful) 

  • Swollen, reddish look

  • Stiffening

  • Warm and sweaty sensation Woman talking with her health care provider.

Late-Stage RSD

Symptoms include:

  • Skin slowly withering (shriveling)

  • Skin that becomes dry and shiny

  • Loss of strength

  • Strange hair growth

  • Ridges in skin look flatter than normal

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