I wish I didn't need to know most of what I know about this disorder, but since I do, I try to follow the research, or at least articles about that research. I try to become as literate as I can toward health information, and I choose my sources of articles carefully. I truly try to understand what the research says, and, if possible, understand how it fits into my life.
I've read about a few breakthroughs in our understanding and treatment of chronic pain, and more specifically, RSD/CRPS. I'd like to share these articles with you and add my own commentary and questions. Since most research in professional journals can be somewhat tricky to get to, since journals often require subscriptions, I'll link to articles about the actual study. Most of these articles will cite the article if you have the access and interest in the journals in question.
The first study describes some fascinating
changes in the brains of people with RSDS/CRPS
The article explains that in the brains of people with RSDS/CRPS, emotion, skin temperature and pain have all gotten mixed up and jumbled. I have to admit that my understanding of neurology isn't great, and though people have tried to help me understand the layout of the brain, I don't really understand how all of this works. However, I do feel that these results are pretty accurate. We've always known that in RSDS/CRPS there is a change in temperature and aggrivation of symptoms if there's a lot of stress or anxiety. Unfortunately, that's often been used as a way to accuse the patient of having pain that's "all in their head", and saying it's just psychological in nature (I've read that it can be diagnosed as a somatoform disorder). That's not to say that a psychological problem isn't legitimate too, it's just that sometimes not everyone sees the world, or the patient, with compassionate eyes. Studies like this give me a small amount of hope that maybe someday we will be able to get rid of this life-sucking syndrome.
The next study is reported on the How to Cope with Pain blog, a site which I frequently link to because there's always something interesting, challenging or inspiring to write about there. This post is no exception. The post
How Practicing Touch Can Help Pain
describes how training tactile discrimination can help people with RSDS/CRPS. reduce pain. This makes sense, especially given the study I described above. In this study, patients who were taught to discriminate between the feel of a pencil tip and the eraser reduced their pain. The thought is that there are skills which become disrupted by chronic pain; knowing the right side from the left side, or being able to know what you're feeling with the effected limb. One treatment uses mirrors to allow a patient to move the unaffected limb and trick the brain when it sees what it thinks is the affected limb moving without pain. So, for someone like me with the left foot and leg affected, moving the right leg and seeing it in the mirror would make the brain think the left foot was moving painlessly.
I have to admit I've always felt some resentment that, as a blind person, I couldn't use this new treatment. But with the newest treatment, tactile discrimination, I feel pretty excited that there could be something I could potentially use to help get my brain to unlearn the pain.
Finally, I read an article, which, while not specifically about a research finding, does describe non-drug treatments for chronic pain and describes the experiences of people with chronic pain.
Drug Free Remedies for Chronic Pain
are important because they help the patient to feel more in control of their experience of the pain. I know that I have benefited form some of these treatments and I want to learn about many more.
I hope this look at the research has helped to enhance your understanding of chronic pain and specifically Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Knowledge is power and the more we know, the more we can find solutions to these ongoing problems.