For many CRPS patients, the thought of exercise may seem excruciating. However, surprisingly, physical therapy is fast becoming a non-invasive alternative pain treatment for people with CRPS.
Contrary to popular opinion, physical therapists say movement and exercise do NOT exacerbate the symptoms of CRPS. Moderation, though, is key as over-stimulation could cause more discomfort.
“You should not be afraid to exercise patients,” says Dr. Hartley PT, DPT,. “Moderation is the key. If you over-stimulate the sympathetic nervous system with pain, then you are going to have more pain – and the CRPS is going to get worse.”
One way physical therapists can treat patients with CRPS is through exercise that focuses on the mind-body connection. The type of exercise is brain-based and may include mirror box therapy – which is commonly used for phantom-limb syndrome.
Dr. Feinberg, director of physical therapy, Feinberg Medical Group, Palo Alto, CA uses mirror box therapy on CRPS patients with positive results.
“Imagine standing at a full-length mirror, but the mirror is facing the right hand, and blocking the left hand. It may be a bit hard to visualize, but the mirror makes the right hand look like the left hand,” said Dr. Feinberg to ADVANCE. “You are using the vision pathway to trick the brain into thinking that your left hand is OK. You are changing a pathway in the brain that has been sending inhibitory and painful signals. You are telling it through the vision pathway that you are fine.”
Pain experts and physical therapists agree that CRPS cases can not cured, rather minimized and managed through routine treatment and care. Physical therapy is one such treatment for CRPS that some patients chose because it is non-invasive and does not involve the use of medication.
“I do not think CRPS is curable,” Dr. Feinberg said. “In the very best case, it is in remission and you can get back to almost your full life. That is even rare from what I have seen, but I tend to see the worst cases. Usually it is more about managing the symptoms. I compare it to diabetes because patients can usually relate to that, although they are completely different from a clinical perspective.”
CRPS Therapies and Treatments
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