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What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and how can CRPS affect a personal injury claim?

Personal injury
Motor vehicle accident
Workers' compensation
Public liability
Medical negligence

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is an extremely painful condition that most often affects your hand, arm, foot or leg. It can happen after an earlier injury, such as a fracture. Learn more about CRPS, its triggers and symptoms, and making a personal injury claim if you’re diagnosed with CRPS. 

Here we talk you through what complex regional pain syndrome is in detail, what triggers it, if you can make a compensation claim for this and how we can help. 

What is complex regional pain syndrome? 

CRPS stands for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It’s a chronic pain condition that can turn your life upside down.  Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome can follow a minor or significant injury, trauma or surgery and usually affects one limb (an arm, hand, leg or foot). The pain of CRPS is debilitating, severe, persistent, and out of proportion to the original injury. The causes of CRPS aren’t yet well understood by the medical community. It occurs when there’s damage to or malfunction of your peripheral and central nervous systems. The nerves can become inflamed, leading to bodily sensations and function changes.  

Two types of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome 

There are two types of CRPS. They have similar symptoms but different causes: 

  • CRPS Type 1 (Acute) usually follows an injury to a limb, where the nerves were not affected 

  • CRPS Type 2 (Dystrophic) usually follows an injury to a limb where the nerves were affected 

Does CRPS have another name?  

CRPS is sometimes called: 

  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy 

  • Causalgia 

  • Shoulder Hand Syndrome 

  • Sudeck’s Atrophy 

Is CRPS a disability in Australia? 

If you can’t work because the chronic pain of CRPS is disabling and ongoing, it may be considered a disability. There must be sufficient medical evidence to support a disability claim.  

What triggers CRPS? 

Anyone can get Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. A prior personal injury can trigger CRPS. It will most often follow an injury to a limb, for example:  

  • Fracture (such as a broken arm or broken leg) 

  • A penetrating injury (such as a laceration or deep wound from a motor vehicle accident

  • Following surgery (such as surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome or a knee arthroscopy) 

The initial injury doesn’t have to be severe. CRPS more often follows an injury to an upper limb (hand or arm).  

Sometimes, CRPS can follow a:  

Complex regional pain syndrome symptoms 

CRPS may ‘fly under the radar’ and you may not realise you have it. This is because CRPS usually follows an earlier personal injury, and you believe your pain is part of that injury. 

Complex regional pain syndrome symptoms can include: 

Physical pain 

  • Burning pain in the limb that’s been injured (hand, arm, foot or leg) 

  • Pain that changes in intensity 

  • Loss of fine motor skills (for example, difficulty picking up and holding a pen or being unable to make a fist) 

Sensory (nerve) pain and changes 

  • Shakes (tremors) 

  • Feeling and touch 

  • Motor function (moving your muscles and limbs) 

  • Stiffness in the injured limb 

Skin, hair and nails 

  • Changes to the nails, skin and hair on the injured limb (for example your skin is drier or sweatier compared to your unaffected limb) 

  • Your injured limb feeling warmer or colder compared to your unaffected limb 

  • Hair growth on the affected limb may change 

  • The growth of fingernails or toenails may slow down or get faster 


The constant, severe pain of CRPS can also mean people experience psychological symptoms such as: 

  • A feeling of desperation  

  • Poor sleep 

  • Depression or anxiety 

Diagnosis of CRPS 

CRPS is often disputed in personal injury claims. It can be difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms vary from person to person, depending on the nature of the initial injury and your own experience of CRPS. 

CRPS is usually diagnosed by a pain specialist and based on the ‘Budapest Criteria’ (developed by the International Association for the Study of Pain).  

To diagnose CRPS, your doctor will ask about:  

  • How many CRPS symptoms you have 

  • The severity of your symptoms 

  • The severity and constancy of your pain (whether your pain comes and goes) 

  • Whether your pain is disproportionate to your initial injury 

Seek medical advice as soon as possible 

If you believe you or your loved one has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible, as you’ll likely need a referral to a pain specialist. If in doubt, get a second medical opinion. It’s important that the specialist is suitably qualified and experienced in regularly treating CRPS.  

Don’t ignore the signs. Tell your doctor about your personal injury (it may have been in a public place, work-related or from a motor vehicle accident), and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. 

It’s important that CRPS is diagnosed and treated early, so it doesn’t become chronic and progressive. If this occurs, you’re more likely to live with significant disability and decreased quality of life.  

Complex regional pain syndrome treatment 

There’s no single recommended treatment for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and no simple cure. If diagnosed early (within 3 to 6 months of onset), the pain signals of CRPS can be blocked. 

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome treatment can include:  

  • Physiotherapy and occupational therapy to improve, restore and maintain the function of your affected limb 

  • Pain management through pain injection treatments (such as nerve blocks), medication and pain therapy 

  • Appropriate psychological therapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) 

Many people aren’t diagnosed with CRPS for years, which means they live with severe and worsening physical and psychological symptoms. 

Can you make a personal injury claim for CRPS? 

You can make a personal injury claim for CRPS if your initial injury was, for example: 

If you’re already in the middle of a personal injury claim and you believe you have CRPS symptoms, it’s important to raise this with your solicitor immediately. If you address your claim for CRPS after your personal injury claim has been settled, it may be near impossible for your solicitor to make any further claims.  

As this is a complex area of law, Shine Lawyers will listen to your story and help you understand what Complex Regional Pain Syndrome settlements in Australia may be available to you.  

How Shine can help with CRPS 

Don’t live with the pain of CRPS any longer. Get in touch with our experienced teams at Shine Lawyers for advice on how you might be able to bring a claim on a No Win, No Fee* basis.  

CRPS could impact your long-term ability to work. You may have significant ongoing medical and domestic support needs. Seek legal advice as soon as possible to protect what matters and right wrong.  

*Conditions apply 

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