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CRPS: what’s in a name? Taxonomy, epidemiology, neurologic, immune and autoimmune considerations
  1. Michael d‘A Stanton-Hicks
  1. Department of Pain Management, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH 44024, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Michael d‘A Stanton-Hicks, Department of Pain Management, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH 44024, USA; shrikecorpmsh{at}


This account of the condition now termed complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) spans approximately 462 years since a description embodying similar clinical features was described by Ambroise Paré in 1557. While reviewing its historical origins, the text describes why it became necessary to change the taxonomies of two clinical syndromes with similar pathophysiologies to one which acknowledges this aspect but does not introduce any mechanistic overtones. Discussed at length is the role of the sympathetic component of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and why its dysfunction has both directly and indirectly influenced our understanding of the inflammatory aspects of CRPS. As the following article will show, our knowledge has expanded in an exponential fashion to include musculoskeletal, immune, autoimmune, central and peripheral nervous system and ANS dysfunction, all of which increase the complexity of its clinical management. A burgeoning literature is beginning to shed light on the mechanistic aspects of these syndromes and the increasing evidence of a genetic influence on such factors as autoimmunity, and its importance is also discussed at length. An important aspect that has been missing from the diagnostic criteria is a measure of disease severity. The recent validation of a CRPS Severity Score is also included.

  • reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • causalgia
  • complex regional pain syndrome
  • sympathetic
  • central and peripheral nervous systems
  • genetic
  • immune
  • autoimmunity musculoskeletal
  • brain reorganization
  • severity score
  • taxonomy
  • diagnostic criteria
  • Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)

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  • Presented at This work was presented in part as the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine’s 2017 Bonica Award lecture. The award is named for John J. Bonica, MD, who championed the collaboration of multidisciplinary specialists in the evaluation and treatment of patients with pain.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.