Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) Often Seen in PA Workers’ Comp

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a horrible condition we see all too often resulting from work injuries. This condition can develop from a traumatic work injury, even what previously seemed to be a relatively minor one. Scientists still do not seem to know why RSD or CRPS develops.

The hallmark symptom of RSD or CRPS is unrelenting, often burning, pain. This character of pain, called “neuropathic” pain, is caused by irritation of the nerves in the affected area. Frequently, there are also changes in the skin or fingernails of the area as well (known as “trophic” changes). Sadly, there is no cure for RSD or CRPS, and doctors simply try to manage the symptoms of the patient as best they can.

Research is continuing in this area, and there are some promising things on the horizon. A recent study, led by local RSD/CRPS specialist Dr. Robert Schwartzman, found that the drug ketamine, given in an anesthetic dosage, may relieve pain in RSD/CRPS patients who have failed with other treatments. Administration of ketamine while the patient is placed in a five-day coma has been successfully performed in other countries, but has not been approved as yet in the United States. Obviously, in the workers’ comp setting, treatment not approved by the FDA probably does not need to be paid for by the PA workers’ compensation insurance carrier.

An incurable, debilitating, condition like RSD/CRPS raises many issues in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act was designed for injuries which will eventually heal. The system is not properly prepared to deal with a lifelong debilitating condition like RSD/CRPS, which makes the selection of lawyers experienced in PA workers’ compensation particularly important.

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