Whilst it is largely now considered to be bad practice to attempt to define CRPS in terms of stages, some doctors continue to do so. Many people exhibit severe symptoms immediately, whilst in others the onset is far more gradual. Also, not every CRPS sufferer experiences all of these symptoms. Accordingly, an attempt to divide the onset of symptoms into stages can be artificial and misleading. However, historically, the onset was categorised as follows:
Stage One (The Acute Stage)
Typically lasting from one to three months and characterised by:
- Changes to the skin – typically a change in tone and feel, often becoming shiny with additional sweating;
- Temperature change in the affected limb, changing between warm and cold for no discernible reason;
- Severe burning pain in the affected limb which worsens at the slightest touch;
- The rapid growth of hair and / or nails on the affected limb;
- Swelling / joint pain and muscle spasms.
Stage Two (The Dystrophic Stage)
Common at between three to six months and characterised by:
- Worsening levels of pain;
- Weakened muscles and stiff joints;
- Cracking of the nails;
- A slowing of the previously rapid hair growth.
Stage Three (The Atrophic Stage)
This is the said to be the start of the condition becoming entrenched and irreversible. Characterised by:
- Constant and largely unvarying pain in the entire limb, with muscle wasting;
- Limited movement throughout the limb as a result of tightened muscles and tendons.
Whilst early treatment is best, even following a very late diagnosis, treatment can still be of benefit to some people.