How to Take a Comprehensive Approach to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Improving diagnostic skills can assist clinicians in formulating a differential diagnosis for back and neck pain.

Being able to appropriately diagnose, manage, and treat neck and back pain can go a long way when your patient is experiencing painful conditions. Jumping to the solution before correctly assessing the situation at hand could result in adverse effects for your patient. 

As more than 100 million people suffer from chronic pain, clinicians are tasked with identifying new ways to treat a population that is aging, gaining more weight, and living longer. While physicians may not necessarily be able to prevent pain from occurring, they can do their best to comfort patients enduring painful conditions.

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“Many regional pain syndromes mimic each other,” said Srinivas Nalamachu, MD, a clinical associate professor at Temple University and president and clinical director of the International Clinical Research Institute in Overland Park, Kansas. “Sometimes patients may have more than one condition. It is important to know what we are dealing with to be able to come up with the right intervention.”

A patient’s acute low back pain will typically go away in 2 to 3 weeks, and less than 10% will have chronic issues.1 Guidelines call for the use of acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, and physical therapy as first-line treatment.2 If pain is uncontrollable, referral to a specialist may be required.

Improving clinician diagnostic skills can assist physicians with formulating a differential diagnosis. Dr. Nalamachu noted that new pharmacologic and interventional treatment options have been proven to be essential in providing patients with pain relief. 

“There is limited education and training in medical schools and primary care residencies on these conditions,” he said. 

Other back pain conditions warranting attention include lumbosacral radiculopathy, facet joint arthritis, sacroiliac dysfunction, piriformis syndrome, and ankylosing spondylitis. In addition, although rare, pelvic pathology and ischial bursitis should also be considered as contributing to regional pain syndromes. 

Several items are of significance when evaluating back pain: patient history, previous diagnostic testing, functional history, previous interventions, and a thorough evaluation for diagnosis and management. 

Following on the heels of back pain is neck pain. Dr. Nalamachu noted that contributing to the increase in complaints of neck pain are sedentary lifestyles and poor posturing associated with increased use of computers. 

This article originally appeared on MPR