Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic, debilitating disease that affects the nervous system. CRPS generally affects more women than men. In fact, women are about 3-4 times more likely to develop this condition. While it can occur at any age, it is more common in adults. Those with this condition often suffer from chronic pain throughout their entire body. This pain is usually intense.
Is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome a Disability?
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome can be a disability. It can affect your quality of life and reduce your ability to effectively do your job. However, your disability insurance company will likely make it difficult for you to prove your disability. This is because pain, the primary symptom, can often be subjective. This makes it easier for the insurance company to dismiss. As such, you should work with an experienced disability attorney. Your disability attorney can help you navigate the complex paperwork and application process.
Because CRPS is a rare condition, your long-term disability insurance company may not be familiar with it. This means that you will likely need to provide sufficient evidence of how your condition is a disability. Your disability attorney will be able to help guide you through the process.
What Causes CRPS?
Generally, CRPS is a condition caused by the damage or dysfunction of peripheral sensory nerves. This damage then causes secondary effects on the brain and spinal cord. Because the nervous system is all connected, CRPS can cause pain in other areas of the body as part of these secondary effects. In over 90% of cases, nerve trauma or injury to the thinnest nerve fibers is what causes Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. The smallest nerve fibers lack protective myelin sheaths, which help prevent nerve damage. When these nerves are injured, it can be harder for them to recover.
Common causes of CRPS include:
- Cuts and penetrating wounds
- Limb immobilization
- Internal nerve injury
- Comorbidities that cause poor nerve health, such as diabetes
Physical Symptoms of CRPS
CRPS can cause a number of different physical symptoms. These symptoms can be debilitating and painful. They can certainly limit your ability to perform at work. Common symptoms of CRPS include:
- Continuous and unprovoked throbbing/burning pain, generally in the extremities
- Excess and/or prolonged pain after contact or use
- Joint stiffness, damage, and inflammation
- Sensitivity to touch or temperature
- Limited motor function in affected areas
- Muscle weakness and atrophy
- Muscle spasms & tremors
- Changes to hair/nail growth
- Changes to skin texture
- Abnormal sweating
- Acute skin temperature changes
- Changes in skin color
It is common for the first symptoms an individual with CRPS will experience will include hypersensitivity, redness, temperature changes, and swelling. The pain caused by this condition can often be described as excruciating burning sensations, or something akin to an electric shock. In some cases, the pain can cause muscle atrophy.
The frequency and severity of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome symptoms can vary case by case. For some individuals, treatment can help them manage symptoms, or relieve them entirely. For others, it can be a years-long condition, even with extensive treatment.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome can also be considered a progressive condition, with persisting and changing symptoms. Pain and other symptoms may also spread to other body parts, such as other limbs. Once this occurs, it is often irreversible. In more severe cases, even a slight touch to an affected body part can cause immense pain, skin inflammation, and changes in skin color/texture.
Cognitive and Emotional Symptoms of CRPS
In addition to the physical symptoms, CRPS can also have an effect on an individual’s cognitive and emotional health. These effects can often be overlooked, especially by your insurance company. Therefore, it is important to discuss them with your doctor. Having documentation from the doctor of your symptoms can be important in building your disability insurance claim. Moreso, your symptoms can’t be treated if you don’t discuss them with the doctor.
The pain and other physical symptoms you experience can lead to cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment can reduce your ability to function at work. This can include brain fog, lack of focus, memory issues, and concentration. Overall, chronic pain and fatigue can affect your ability to function at work by affecting your ability to process information and think. Cognitive impairment from your CRPS can often be easy to overlook. However, if you are experiencing it, it is important to discuss it with your doctor.
Emotional and Mental Symptoms
The stress of living with chronic pain can also lead to emotional conditions. It is not uncommon for those living with CRPS to also develop depression and/or anxiety. Treatment for these conditions often involves therapy and/or prescription medication.
When filing for your long-term disability insurance claim, it is important to discuss how your mental health conditions are secondary to your CRPS. Otherwise, the insurance company may try to dismiss many of your subjective symptoms as part of your mental health issues.
Proving Complex Regional Pain Syndrome As A Disability
Generally, you will need documentation of your condition and the symptoms you live with. However, simply showing that you have CRPS will not be enough to prove your disability. Thankfully, there are ways to back up your claim with medical evidence.
Proof of diagnosis is the first step in building your long-term disability insurance claim. However, there is no test that actually confirms a CRPS diagnosis. Rather, you will likely need multiple tests to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms. First, your doctor will likely discuss your symptoms and medical history. Then, they will do a thorough physical examination. Testing to rule out other conditions will likely occur. This can help rule out conditions such as Lyme disease, neuropathy, and arthritis.
While there are no tests that can objectively diagnose CRPS, some tests can help provide evidence for the condition. MRIs can show tissue changes common to this condition. Bone scans can provide evidence for the pattern of activity commonly seen in CRPS. Sympathetic Nervous System tests can measure changes in skin temperature and blood flow that can be associated with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Lastly, X-rays can provide evidence of mineral loss within bone that can be evidence of CRPS. These tests can help your doctor confirm your diagnosis. Test results and scan images can help provide further medical evidence for your disability claim.
Functional Capacity Evaluation
An FCE is a type of test that helps quantify your physical limitations as a result of your condition. Because pain and fatigue can often be considered “subjective,” the FCE is a way to provide objective medical evidence for the physical limitations caused by your CRPS. Because of the many debilitating physical symptoms, this evaluation can help show the limits caused by your pain, fatigue, atrophy, and other conditions.
A Neuropsychological Evaluation is a type of test that quantifies your cognitive impairment. This evaluation can help provide objective medical evidence for the cognitive and emotional symptoms of your CRPS. This evaluation will test aspects such as concentration, memory, mental fatigue, and more. It can be very helpful in providing real data for otherwise subjective aspects of your condition. If you feel like your cognitive impairment caused by your CRPS is severe enough, this may be important for your claim.
Appropriate Treatment for CRPS
Generally, most long-term disability insurance policies will require proof of appropriate treatment for your condition. This means that you will need to show that you are actively seeking medical treatment for your condition. This may be in the form of seeing specialists, such as a neurologist, or taking medications. Overall, this is so the insurance company sees that you are making a good-faith effort to improve your disability. While there is no cure for CRPS, there are different treatment methods that may help reduce your symptoms. In most cases, your insurance company will require you to show that you are receiving treatment throughout your time collecting benefits as well.
The earlier you seek treatment for your condition, the more likely that it will be effective in managing symptoms. If left unchecked, CRPS can advance to other parts of the body. In most cases, early treatment reduces this risk. Some treatments or medications for CRPS can lead to additional cognitive impairment. Be sure to discuss any additional symptoms you feel as a result of treatment. Document any and all symptoms you experience.
Always follow recommended treatment practices, or discuss with your doctor alternative options. Non-compliance with treatment or lack of appropriate care can be a reason for the insurance company to deny or end your benefits.
Medications for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
There are no medications specifically for CRPS, but many medications can help treat some of the common symptoms. Often, these will address pain, inflammation, and more. NSAID pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen are often recommended. While these are over-the-counter drugs, your doctor may prescribe higher dosages. In severe cases, opioid pain medications (morphine, oxycodone, etc.) may be prescribed.
Corticosteroids, like prednisone, can be helpful in treating inflammation and swelling. Anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications can be helpful in providing relief for neuropathic pain. Anti-depressants may be helpful in treating secondary emotional conditions as a result of your CRPS. Sympathetic nerve blockers are anesthetic injections for the nerves, which can block pain signals. This is only a temporary treatment, but it may be repeatable.
Additional Treatment Options
Physical therapy is often an important part of CRPS treatment. The primary function of physical therapy is to help facilitate movement. This helps increase overall blood flow, which can be vital to the healing process.
Neural stimulation treatments use electrical or magnetic currents to stimulate and reawaken the nerves. While often non-invasive, some forms of this treatment, such as those dealing directly with the spine, may require minor surgery.
Psychotherapy can be an important aspect of treating secondary emotional conditions, such as depression and anxiety. These conditions can often exacerbate other symptoms, so treatment can be important.
One surgical option for CRPS is a Sympathectomy. A Sympathectomy is a procedure where the surgeon will cut or clamp a section of the sympathetic nerve chain. This prevents nerve signals from traveling through that section. This is generally considered to be a “last resort” if medications are not enough to treat the condition. By preventing the affected nerve from sending signals to the brain, you reduce pain and other symptoms in the area.
Can an Attorney Help Me Get Long-Term Disability for CRPS?
If you are looking to file a long-term disability claim for your Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, you should seek out an experienced attorney. At D’Agostino & Associates, we help people living with disabling conditions such as CRPS file long-term disability claims. We help you through the process step by step to help you build a strong case. Our law team is here for you.
At D’Agostino & Associates, our team of lawyers can help you sort through all the details, understand what you are entitled to, and fight to get what you deserve. D’Agostino & Associates P.C. has offices in New York and New Jersey. Contact us, or call us at 1-888-245-2924 to schedule a free consultation with our attorneys.