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Phone: (910) 341-7570

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A Severe Consequence of North Carolina Motor Vehicle Accidents: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Some injuries after a North Carolina truck collision or motorcycle accident are relatively easy to diagnose and treat. It’s obvious when someone has a broken arm or dislocated shoulder, for instance.

Damage to the nervous system often presents a greater challenge, however. Sometimes the injury is subtle enough that its effects don’t show up for weeks or months after. In rare cases, doctors have just begun to recognize a pattern of symptoms that previously hasn’t been identified as an ailment.

That’s the case with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)—a chronic pain condition that, doctors now realize, can incapacitate people who have been involved in the physical trauma of a North Carolina traffic accident.

What causes CRPS?

The nervous system is a complicated system of branches that extend throughout the human body, leading from all body parts to the spinal column and to the brain. Signals are continually passing along nerve fibers—orders from the brain to move a particular muscle group, as well as messages to the brain about sensations from various parts of the body.

Complex regional pain syndrome generally begins with an injury. Notably, the injury need not be especially severe; it may seem a little more than a bruise. However, the injury sets in motion physical processes that are still not completely understood. Some researchers think that the sympathetic nervous system—the part of the nervous system that releases adrenaline, to prepare for a “flight or fight” reaction—gets over-stimulated. Other researchers believe that the injury causes the immune system to become inflamed in nearby nerve fibers.

Inflammation seems to be the heart of complex regional pain syndrome. Nerve cells react to inflammation by sending pain signals to the rest of the nervous system. At the same time, blood flow to the affected area becomes irregular. Typically, the patient experiences intense, burning pain that is completely out of proportion to the initial injury. Over time, the pain spreads from the injury point to surrounding areas, and may eventually extend to remote areas of the body. Unlike other injuries, the pain does not weaken over time, but may even grow more intense.

The outcome of CRPS cases

Physicians have recognized three stages as the usual progression of complex regional pain syndrome. Not all patients will pass through all stages; some stop at an early level, and others jump straight to stage two or three.

  • Stage One. Joint pain and muscle spasms are accompanied by changes in the skin. Skin temperature may change suddenly. The skin may become discolored or swollen. The skin becomes extremely sensitive to touch, registering a burning pain with even gentle contact. This phase generally lasts one to three months.
  • Stage Two. Pain intensifies. Fingernails and toenails crack and break; hair growth slows. The patient has difficulty moving or walking, and finds the activities of daily living to be challenging. This phase can last three to six months.
  • Stage Three. Muscle fibers begin to waste away. The patient has severe difficulty moving the affected portion of his body because the muscles are permanently contracted. Many of the physical changes at this point can be irreversible.


There is no cure for complex regional pain syndrome. The only treatment is to try to relieve the symptoms—a therapy that is effective in halting progression of the disease for some patients. Early physical therapy has shown a great deal of promise. Pain medications are useful for many patients. Neurosurgery to disconnect the affected nerve clusters has shown mixed results, with some patients showing worse symptoms after surgery.

Getting the help you need

Doctors recognize that patients with complex regional pain syndrome are suffering greatly, and they are frustrated that they cannot guarantee to relieve symptoms. Treatment can be expensive and last a lifetime.

At Speaks Law Firm, we have seen a number of clients with CRPS symptoms after a Leland or Wrightsville Beach traffic accident. Our Wilmington personal injury lawyers know how to explain the complicated facts of a rare medical condition to a jury to get you the damage award or settlement you deserve.

Call us today at 910-341-7570 (or toll-free at 877-593-4233 from anywhere in the state) to get some peace of mind about the costs of your therapy. Our initial consultation is always free, and you do not owe us anything unless we can get you a financial recovery.