How to Treat Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Treatment for reflex sympathetic dystrophy can be done with medications, physiotherapy and acupuncture that relieve pain and swelling.

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is characterized by the sudden onset of severe pain and swelling that can occur in a leg and foot or an arm and hand. These symptoms usually arise after trauma to the affected site, which may be a fall or a fracture, for example, and the pain is often much greater than expected for the trauma that occurred.

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy is also known as Sudeck's atrophy, algodystrophy, causalgia, shoulder-hand syndrome, neuroalgodystrophy, post-traumatic sympathetic dystrophy and Regional Complex Pain Syndrome, the latter being the most current name.

How to identify

Symptoms of this Sudeck dystrophy can include the following changes in the affected region:

  • Intense burning pain;
  • Swelling, which can make it difficult to wear shoes or jackets;
  • Sensitivity changes;
  • Change in skin color;
  • Increased sweat and cold skin;
  • Emergence of hair;
  • Muscle tremors and weakness.

Women are the most affected and in most cases the most affected areas of the body are the legs and feet, although the arms and hands can be affected. Rarely are both arms or legs affected at the same time.

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Treatment

The treatment for reflex sympathetic dystrophy can be done using drugs such as acetylsalicylic acid, indomethacin, ibuprofen or naproxen, as indicated by the doctor.

Physiotherapy can be done with

  • Analgesic resources, use of cold or hot bags;
  • Electrostimulation apparatus;
  • Bandage to reduce swelling;
  • Massage;
  • Exercises to improve strength, strengthen bones and deflate;
  • Manual lymphatic drainage and
  • Use of tapes glued to the skin to improve blood circulation.

Physiotherapeutic treatment is of great help, contributing to the reduction of swelling and pain.

Acupuncture also achieves good results, being recommended as a complementary part of the treatment indicated by the doctor and the physiotherapist.

When the affected person undergoes the proposed treatment, it is possible to improve the logo symptoms in the first 6 to 8 weeks of treatment and usually the cure is reached in about 6 months.


All the causes of reflex sympathetic dystrophy are not yet known, but it is known that it can arise after an accident or trauma, especially in people who suffer from depression or are emotionally unstable, with a state of mania and insecurity. However, this syndrome can also affect children who are usually perfectionists.

Some situations that seem to aggravate the symptoms are stressful events, fights, change of job or school and situations like death or illness in the family, which indicates that this illness is potentially aggravated by emotions.