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Washington State Department of Labor and Industries Page 71 of 84 
Medical Treatment Guidelines 
 
 
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) 
Formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy 
 
1. INTRODUCTION 
This bulletin outlines the Department of Labor and Industries’ guidelines for diagnosing and treating Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) — formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). This guideline was developed through collaboration between the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) Industrial Insurance/Rehabilitation Committee and the Office of the Medical Director of the Department of Labor and Industries. The protocol for CRPS physical therapy/occupational therapy (see Table 2) was developed in collaboration with the Washington State Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Associations. 
2. WHAT IS COMPLEX REGIONAL PAIN SYNDROME? 
Complex Regional Pain Syndromes are painful conditions that usually affect the distal part of an upper or lower extremity and are associated with characteristic clinical phenomena as described in Table 1. There are two subtypes — CRPS Type I and CRPS Type II. 
The term “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome” was introduced to replace the terms “reflex sympathetic dystrophy.” CRPS Type I used to be called reflex sympathetic dystrophy. CRPS Type II used to be called causalgia. The terminology was changed because the pathophysiology of CRPS is not known with certainty. It was determined that a descriptive term such as CRPS was preferable to “reflex sympathetic dystrophy” which carries with it the assumption that the sympathetic nervous system is important in the pathophysiology of the painful condition. 
The terms CRPS Type-I and CRPS Type-II are meant as descriptors of certain chronic pain syndromes. They do not embody any assumptions about pathophysiology. For the most part the clinical phenomena characteristics of CRPS Type I are the same as seen in CRPS Type II. The central difference between Type I and Type II is that, by definition, Type II occurs following a known peripheral nerve injury, whereas Type I occurs in the absence of any known nerve injury. 
Pain that can be abolished or greatly reduced by sympathetic blockade (for example, a stellate ganglion block) is called sympathetically maintained pain. Pain that is not affected by sympathetic blockade is called sympathetically independent pain. The pain in some CRPS patients is sympathetically maintained; in others, the pain is sympathetically independent.  
 
 
PHYSICIANS PLEASE NOTE 
If you believe the CRPS conditions is related to an accepted occupational injury, please provide written documentation of the relationship (on a more probable than not basis) to the original condition. Treatment for CRPS will only be authorized if the relationship to an accepted injury is established.  
3. DIAGNOSTIC CODES 
After treatment authorization has been obtained from the claim manager, physicians should use billing codes that are designated for reflex sympathetic dystrophy in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9CM) to bill. The relevant code numbers are described below: 
ICD 9-CM Code English Description 
337.20 Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, unspecified  
337.21 Reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the upper limb 
337.22 Reflex sympathetic dystrophy of the lower limb 
337.29 Reflex sympathetic dystrophy of other specified site 
CRPS; 
Sympathetic Independent Sympathetically Maintained; not CRPS 
CRPS; Sympathetic Maintained 
CRPS Sympathetically 
Maintained Path 
 
4. KEY ISSUES IN MAKING A DIAGNOSIS 
A. CRPS is a Syndrome — See whether your patient’s symptoms and signs match those described in Table 1. 
B. CRPS is Uncommon - Most patients with widespread pain in an extremity do NOT have CRPS. Avoid the mistake of diagnosing CRPS primarily because a patient has widespread extremity pain that does not fit an obvious anatomic pattern. In many instances, there is no diagnostic label that adequately describes the patient’s clinical findings. It is often more appropriate to describe a patient as having “regional pain of undetermined origin” than to diagnose CRPS. 
C. Is CRPS a Disease? — Many clinicians believe that CRPS can best be construed as a “reaction pattern” to injury or to excessive activity restrictions (including immobilization) following injury. From this perspective, CRPS may be a complication of an injury or be iatrogenically induced but it is not an independent disease process. 
D. Type I CRPS vs. Type II CRPS — In a patient with clinical findings of CRPS, the distinction between Type I and Type II CRPS depends on the physician’s assessment of the nature of the injury underlying the CRPS. In many situations, the distinction is obvious — if CRPS onsets following an ankle sprain or a fracture of the hand, it is Type I CRPS. If CRPS onsets following a gunshot wound that severely injures the median nerve, it is Type II CRPS. In ambiguous situations (for example CRPS in the context of a possible lumbar radiculopathy), the physician should be conservative in diagnosing Type II CRPS. This diagnosis should be made only when there is a known nerve injury with definable loss of sensory and/or motor function. 
5. TYPICAL CLINICAL FINDINGS 
A diagnostic algorithm that details the following clinical findings is located in Table I at the end of this guideline. 
A. History 
1. Symptoms develop following injury (usually symptoms begin within 2 months post injury). 
2. Onset is in a single extremity 
3. Burning pain 
4. Hyperalgesia or allodynia (allodynia means pain elicited by stimuli that normally are not painful, i.e., a patient reports severe pain in response to gentle stroking of the skin.) 
5. Swelling 
6. Asymmetry or instability of temperature or color 
7. Asymmetry or instability of sweating 
8. Trophic changes of skin, nails, hair 
B. Findings by Examination 
1. Hyperalgesia or allodynia 
2. Edema (if unilateral, and other causes excluded) 
3. Vasomotor changes such as asymmetry or instability of temperature/color 
4. Sudomotor changes such as excess perspiration in affected extremity 
5. Trophic changes such as shiny skin, hair loss, abnormal nail growth 
6. Findings suggestive of impaired motor function such as: 
(a) tremor 
(b) abnormal limb positioning 
(c) diffuse weakness that cannot be explained by neuralgic loss or by dysfunction of joints, ligaments, tendons or muscles. 
C. Diagnostic Test Results 
A three-phase bone scan with characteristic pattern of abnormality. (NOTE — An abnormal bone scan is not required for the diagnosis of CRPS.) 
D. Lack of Reasonable Alternative 
No other anatomic, physiologic or psychological condition that would reasonably account for the patient’s pain and dysfunction. 
6. SYMPATHETIC BLOCKADE IN THE DIAGNOSIS OF CRPS 
A. CRPS is considered a clinical syndrome, based on the criteria previously described in typical clinical findings and detailed in Table 1. 
B. A patient’s response to a diagnostic sympathetic block provides information about whether his/her pain is sympathetically maintained, but neither establishes nor refutes a diagnosis of CRPS. Therefore, a sympathetic block is not considered to be a definitive diagnostic test for CRPS. 
C. In the patient with CRPS the purpose of a sympathetic block is to guide treatment. If a CRPS patient responds positively to a sympathetic block (indicating that his/her pain is sympathetically maintained) repeat blocks might be useful in the overall treatment plan. 
D. If a patient does NOT meet the criteria for diagnosing CRPS as given in Table I, but the attending physician feels that the patient has sympathetically maintained pain, you may request authorization for a diagnostic sympathetic block. Requests to the state fund for a diagnostic sympathetic block should be sent to the L&I Office of the Medical Director for review. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
7. AN OVERVIEW OF TREATMENT 
Experts in CRPS believe the probability of a patient developing this condition can be reduced by early mobilization/activation following injury or surgery. Conversely, unnecessarily prolonged immobilization following injury or surgery may set the stage of iatrogenic CRPS. Therapy for CRPS should be directed toward the goals of physical restoration and pain control. Details regarding treatment are presented in Tables 1 and 2 located at the end of this Guideline. 
A. Physical Restoration 
Experts agree that CRPS patients usually become trapped in a vicious cycle in which guarding and activity restrictions perpetuate the pain of CRPS. Therapy for CRPS should be directed toward breaking the pain cycle by having patients participate in a progressive activation program for the affected limb. 
1. Because patients usually resist using the affected extremity, the physical restoration program generally requires supervision by a physical therapist or occupational therapist. 
2. Involvement of a physical or occupational therapist is important so that repeated measurements of a patient’s functional capacity can be made. 
3. The frequency with which a patient receives physical or occupational therapy must be individualized by the attending physician. 
4. Physical or occupational therapy occasionally continues beyond the time period during which pain control interventions such as sympathetic blocks are administered. Such prolonged therapy will be authorized as long as there is evidence of ongoing improvement of function of the limb. 
5. Patients need to understand they must use their symptomatic limb in the course of their usual daily activities as well as during physical or occupational therapy sessions. Patients must commit themselves to physical restoration on a 24-hour per day basis. 
B. Pain Control 
1. Interventions to reduce pain are typically needed so that patients can get enough relief to participate in an activation program. 
2. It is crucial that pain control interventions be linked closely with Physical/occupational therapy. Physical or occupational therapy sessions should be scheduled as soon as possible after a sympathetic block. The interval between block and therapy should always be less than 24-hours. In general, physical/occupational therapy should be directed toward activation and desensitization in the affected limb. Details are given in Table 2. 
3. Clinicians use a variety of medications to control pain in patients with CRPS. 
These include alpha adrenergic blockers, corticosteroids, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, mexiletine and opiates. The Department of Labor and Industries has no formal guideline regarding a specific medication regimen for CRPS. 
C. Sympathetic Blocks 
1. In a patient who meets criteria for CRPS, up to 3 sympathetic blocks will be authorized to allow the attending physician to determine whether the patient has sympathetically mediated pain. 
2. Additional blocks will be authorized ONLY if there is evidence from the first three that the patient has sympathetically mediated pain. 
3. The physician who performs each sympathetic block should document: 
(a) Measurable evidence that a sympathetic blockade in the target limb was achieved — e.g., hand/foot temperature before and after the block, observed color changes and/or venodilation.  
(b) The extent and duration of the patient’s pain relief, based on a pain diary
4. A patient should be seen by a physical or occupational therapist during the time interval when a sympathetic block would be expected to have an effect — that is, within a few hours of the block. The therapist should document the functional status of the patient’s symptomatic limb during the therapy session. 
5. The attending physician or the physician performing sympathetic blocks should correlate the information previously described n #3 and #4 to determine whether a block has produced the intended effects on pain, function and observable manifestations of CRPS. 
D. Psychological Treatment 
The clinical course of many patients with chronic pain, such as those with CRPS, may be complicated by pre-existing or concurrent psychological or psychosocial issues. A one-time psychological/psychiatric consultation may be requested to assist in the evaluation of such patients. 
For those patients you feel require treatment for psychological/psychiatric disorders, authorization for such treatment will be considered only under the following conditions: 
The psychological/psychiatric consultation has led to a psychiatric diagnosis (that 
is, a DSM4 diagnosis), AND 1) EITHER the diagnosed psychiatric condition must be considered causally related to the industrial injury, 2) OR the diagnosed condition must be retarding recovery from the industrial injury. 
E. Treatment Phases 
Treatment is divided into six-week phases. A maximum of three phases may be authorized. The second phase will be authorized only if the first phase has led to demonstrable functional improvement. The third phase may be authorized only if the first and second phases have led to demonstrable functional improvement. 
1. In the first six-week phase, up to 5 sympathetic blocks will be authorized (along with other accepted conservative measures such as medication management). 
2. During the second six-week phase, a total of 3 sympathetic blocks will be authorized. 
3. Up to 3 more sympathetic blocks may be authorized for patients who go on to the third phase of treatment. 
F. Hospitalization 
Hospitalization is rarely appropriate in the treatment of CRPS. The only exception to this is that a CRPS patient might have an orthopedic condition that is amenable to surgery. Because CRPS patients are at high risk for flares after surgery, it is reasonable for such a patient to be admitted to a hospital prior to surgery so that aggressive pain control measures may be undertaken preoperatively. 
G. Sympathectomy 
Sympathectomies are not indicated for CRPS and are NOT COVERED. 
8. REFERENCES 
1. Janig W & Stanton-Hicks M (ed) Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy: A Reappraisal. Seattle: IASP Press, 1996. 
2. Merskey H & Bogdud N (ed) Classification of Chronic Pain (2 nd ed). Seattle: IASP Press 1994. 
 
 
 
 
 
Table 1.  Labor And Industries Criteria Number 13 
Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) Conservative Treatment Guideline 
 
EXAMINATION FINDINGS & DIAGNOSTIC TEST RESULTS CONSERVATIVE CARE 
At least four of the following must be present in order for a diagnosis of CRPS to be made.  
Early aggressive care is encouraged.   
Emphasis should be on improved functioning of the symptomatic limb. 
 
EXAMINATION FINDINGS: FIRST SIX WEEKS OF CARE: 
1. Temperature/color change 
2. Edema  
??Sympathetic blocks, maximum of five. Each block should be followed immediately by physical/occupational therapy. 
3. Trophic skin, hair, nail growth abnormalities 
4. Impaired motor function  
??Physical/occupational therapy should be focused on increasing functional level (see Table 2). 
5. Hyperpathia/allodynia 
6. Sudomotor changes  
??Other treatment, e.g., medication at MD’s discretion as long as it promotes improved function. 
DIAGNOSTIC TEST RESULTS AFTER THE 1ST SIX WEEKS OF CARE: 
7. Three-phase bone scan that is abnormal in pattern characteristics for CRPS. This test is not needed if 4 or more of the above examination findings are present.  
??Strongly consider psychiatric or psychological consultation if disability has extended beyond 3 months. 
??Continued physical/ occupational therapy based on documented progress towards goal established during first 6 weeks (referenced above).  
??Sympathetic blocks only if response to previous blocks has been positive, maximum of 3** every six weeks for a maximum of 12 weeks. 
SURGICAL INTERVENTION (SYMPATHETECTOMY) FOR 
TREATMENT OF THIS CONDITION IS NOT COVERED 
 
 
**A maximum of 11 blocks can be delivered over the total 18 week period. 
 
Dx; 4/6 findings in first 6 weeks of symptoms 
 1. Skin changes (color or temp)  
 2. Edema 
 3. Trophic growth (skin, hair, nails) 
 4. Motor impairment 
 5. Allo/super-sensitivity 
 6. Sweating changes 
 
After 6 weeks  
Three Phase Bone Scan if less than 4/6 of above 
 
Table 2 
Labor And Industries 
Criteria Number 13 
 
Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) 
Conservative Treatment Guideline 
 
PROTOCOL FOR PHYSICAL THERAPY/OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY 
FOR CRPS 
1. Evaluation should: 
A. Include a date of onset of original injury (helpful in determining if early or late stage) and a date of onset of the CRPS symptoms. 
B. Establish a baseline for strength and motion. 
C. Establish a baseline for weight bearing for lower extremity. 
D. If lower extremity, evaluate distance able to walk and need for assistive device. 
E. If upper extremity, establish a baseline for grip strength, pinch strength and shoulder range of motion. 
F. If possible, objectify swelling (e.g., do volume displacements). 
G. Define functional limitations. 
2. Set specific functional goals for treatment related to affected extremity. 
3. All treatment programs should include a core of: 
A. A progressive active exercise program, including a monitored home exercise program. 
B. Progressive weight bearing for the lower extremity (if involved). 
C. Progressive improvement of grip strength, pinch strength and shoulder range of motion of the upper extremity (if involved). 
D. A desensitization program. 
4. For specific cases, additional treatment options may be indicated to enhance effectiveness of the above core elements. Documentation should reflect reasons for these additional treatment options. 
5. Documentation should include: 
A. At least every two weeks, assessment of progress towards goals. 
B. Response to treatment used in addition to core elements (listed above in section 3). 
C. Evidence of motivation and participation in home exercise program, i.e., diary or quota system. 
 
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