For the vast majority of our clients who suffer CRPS, the precipitating injury which resulted in them developing the condition was a fracture, bruising, strain or sprain, usually to one of the extremities. However, for two of our current clients the precipitating trauma was a little different, an electric shock. In both cases CRPS has developed at the point of entry of the shock, although in neither case was there any obvious peripheral nerve damage and both have been diagnosed with CRPS Type I.
Electrocution is a known trigger for CRPS and cases have been reported where the condition has developed at both the entry and exit sites.
The incidence of electric shock as a trigger for CRPS seems high compared to other types of injury. In one study, of 45 victims of electric shock who were studied, 15 went on to develop symptoms of CRPS.
There does not seem to be any particular correlation between the voltage involved in the shock and chance of developing CRPS, with both high and low voltage cases reported as triggers; the highest invariably being the result of lightning strikes.
CRPS is not the only condition for which an electric shock can be a trigger, but others such as cardiovascular problems share a link with CRPS through the autonomic nervous system (ANS), suggesting that electrocution can result in dysfunction in the ANS.
Despite ever more stringent regulation on electrical systems and devices and the prevalence of circuit breakers and other safety devices, electric shock remains a surprisingly common injury. In the UK annually, around 12,000 people are seen within the NHS following electric shock.
Whilst it may be easy to dismiss many cases of electric shock as trivial, on the basis of the evidence highlighted above, each and every case should be treated seriously. Victims of electric shock should be advised to be alert to the development of new symptoms and to report those immediately to their doctor.