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What is the treatment for reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)?

Response to treatment of RSD is greater in the earlier stages of the condition than in the later stages.

  • Cool, moist applications to the affected areas can provide some relief of burning symptoms.
  • Gradual exercise can help prevent contractures.
  • Medications for pain and inflammation can also reduce symptoms.
  • For persisting symptoms, high doses of prednisone (cortisone) may be used for periods of weeks, depending on the response, and then gradually reduced.
  • Other medications that may be of benefit include amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep), pregabalin (Lyrica), and clonidine (Catapres, Catapres=TTS, Jenloga).
  • Occasionally, a nerve block with anesthetic injected into a specialized area of the involuntary nervous system (for example, a stellate ganglion blockade) can help both in treatment and in establishing the diagnosis. Sometimes a series of these blocks is tried.
  • Other treatments include surgically interrupting the nerves (the sympathetic nerves) of the involuntary nervous system (surgical sympathectomy), implanting pumps with pain medication into the spinal canal (intrathecal drug pumps), and spinal cord stimulation devices.
Return to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome

See what others are saying

Comment from: meadow13, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: September 27

I've got hurt on the job in 1991, lifting a bag of trash. I've been dealing with all kinds of treatment, shots, medications, etc. I was told I'm in the third stage of RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy), and I have headaches, face drooping, lots of pain, swelling, etc. I've been to so many doctors. I have spinal cord machine and wires, and medicines. It's a fight each day. But you have to keep going and do what you can to get through.

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Comment from: Tripadoodle, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: July 12

I acquired RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) in 2003, after I broke a bone in my left foot and the cast was too tight. It subsequently spread to my right foot after I wore a tight bandage on it. I know now not to wear anything tight on any part of my body. The first stage was very bad and I mainly used the left foot as a very painful, stiff, swollen, red prop, as it wouldn't bend. I was given amitriptyline which calmed the nerves and killed the excruciating pain but it returned periodically, though not so bad. I was very fortunate to see an osteopath who manipulated the foot and ankle and I am now able to walk normally. My feet don't like changes in temperature or wearing heels higher than one inch. I sit with my feet up just about all the time and, when I have to have them down, I use a footrest to keep my toes in the air. I feel so sad for those who are left with the first stage problems as they are indescribable. I thought my life was over but I get by quite well now and know what I can and cannot do. I have been prescribed gabapentin to use if the RSD flares up.

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Comment from: peterbilt01, 65-74 Male (Patient) Published: March 08

I am truck driver, 71 year old. I crushed leg and foot in 1984. I had pain pump infusions shots as you all have and it did not work. RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy) is bad stuff. Finally the doctor gave me prescription for Dolobid, its generic is diflunisal and it has really helped. I hope it will help someone. Good luck.

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