Pathophysiological Mechanisms Involved in Vasomotor Disturbances in Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Implications for Therapy: A Review

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is characterized by continuous pain, disproportional to the initial trauma. It usually spreads to the distal parts of the affected limb. Besides continuing pain, a mix of sensory, sudo- and vasomotor disturbances, motor dysfunction, and trophic changes is responsible for physical complaints. Vasomotor disturbance is characterized by changes in skin temperature and color. In CRPS patients with a cold extremity, a decrease in blood flow can cause decreased tissue saturation and tissue acidosis, resulting in ischemic pain. The pathophysiology of vasomotor disturbances is not completely understood. Temperature asymmetry is generally assumed as a result of disturbance in the sympathetic nervous system. Vasodilating drugs and sympathetic blockade have been cornerstones of therapy in cold CRPS for years. However, only a limited part of these patients improve on this kind of therapies. Research has shown a pivotal role for inflammation in the pathophysiology of CRPS. Inflammation can result in endothelial dysfunction. Endothelial function plays an important role in the local regulation of vascular tone. Endothelial dysfunction could be another mechanism responsible for the vasomotor disturbances in cold CRPS. An important goal in the treatment of cold-type CRPS is the restoration of a normal blood flow. Consequently it is important to distinguish the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms of vasomotor disturbances. A disturbance of the sympathetic nervous system may require another type of treatment than inflammation-induced endothelial dysfunction. Diagnostic tools to distinguish these underlying pathophysiological mechanisms of vasomotor disturbances would enable a mechanism-based treatment and improve clinical outcome.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)905-914
Number of pages10
JournalPain Practice
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Research programs

  • EMC COEUR-09

Cite this