How RSD Is Diagnosed

rsd_logo1Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome/RSD, or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/CRPS, presents an enormous challenge for diagnosticians. There are many factors involved, which make it quite difficult and convoluted when a patient presents with symptoms, and they look to their doctors for answers. It is extremely frightening and frustrating when a patient experiences the most excruciating pain ever, along with other unfathomable symptoms, only to be turned away by Dr. after Dr., because they are unfamiliar with, and do not recognize the symptoms of RSD/CRPS. It can be quite the conundrum!  Thankfully, some doctors are caring,  good listeners, very sympathetic, and they are willing to  “hang in there” with their patients, until the patients have been definitively diagnosed. It’s quite unfortunate, that there are also doctors who are not as sympathetic, and they go as far as to not believe what their patients are telling them about their pain levels, and other symptoms. This scenario occurs all too often, for patients who are suffering from this chronically painful syndrome!

Since there is no one test that exists which can definitively diagnose RSD 100% of the time, doctors use the process of exclusion to determine whether or not a patient is suffering from RSD. In other words, patients have a battery of tests done, to rule in, or rule out several disorders, which manifest similarly to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome. This process is a marker of a clinical diagnosis, which will be further explained in the next paragraph.

Usually, a clinical diagnosis is the most effective way to get a proper diagnosis. This type of diagnosis is done by someone who is well versed in this area, and up to date on the most recent research pertaining to RSD. Most of the time, the doctor who would perform this test is a Neurologist. However, other doctors such as Spine Specialists, Pain Management Specialists, and Orthopedic Specialists, have also been known to clinically diagnose RSD/CRPS. This list may not be all-inclusive. These doctors look for specific symptoms that a patient would present with, if RSD is suspected. Although patients suffer from several symptoms, when diagnosing RSD, four markers are specified, when making a clinical diagnosis of RSD. For example, pain that exists long after the precipitating injury has healed, or pain that is disproportionate to the injury sustained. Other markers doctors would look for, are temperature changes of the skin in the affected limb/area, edema and sweating in the affected area and, inflammation and allodynia. I should add, that an evaluation of a patient’s medical history is included, in a clinical diagnosis. Several other tests used to diagnose RSD without much success are CAT scans, MRIs, and x-rays. Another test used to diagnose RSD, is a three-phase bone scan. Although this test definitively diagnoses RSD only a little more than 50% of the time, I thought it would be worth looking into further. This was the test used to confirm the diagnosis of RSD, after I had been clinically diagnosed by a Spine Specialist. My Neurologist suggested that I have this test done. (For more information about this test, click on the hyperlink, three-phase bone scan.) Some doctors believe this test is a total waste of time and money, while others believe there is some validity to using this test. Personally, I was glad to have a concrete confirmation of the clinical diagnosis of RSD. Some patients fear the possibly of the test rendering a “false negative” result. Some patients also believe the test will render an inconclusive result. Click on the image, to read about other tests that are used to diagnose RSD. (This information is at the end of the article.) Feel free to share your stories, or to leave a comment.
I wish you the very best. May God bless you abundantly, today and every day. 

Note: Please read the disclaimer.


19 comments on “How RSD Is Diagnosed

  1. Thank you, Minister Paulette

    The more I read your blog the more my knowledge increases. Thanks again for letting us into your world and sharing your story so others may benefit. I know all thing are possible to the God we serve and while I thank Him for the awareness you bring, I still continue to believe He will heal you … completely.

    Thanks again, Paulette. As always, you are in my thoughts and prayers.


    • Hi Ann,

      There is still such a need for information pertaining to RSD. Several of the search engine requests on my site, are about RSD issues. For the most part, that is what will drive the type of blog posts I write, pertaining to this subject matter. A friend of mine, who I met a while back on an RSD support site, started her own website/forum about five months ago. Already, she has over 8,000 registered members. It’s amazing how many suffer from this syndrome, yet so many doctors are still not well versed in treating it. I don’t understand that. Very often, we end up being our own diagnosticians. We scour the Internet, and pretty much whatever we can get our hands on to read, searching for information, hoping to find answers for the many questions we have.

      I thank you so much, for your constant support. It means much to me.

      God bless you!


    • Ann,

      “I still continue to believe He will heal you … completely.” Yes, God can do whatever He wants to, when He wants to, and how He wants to. Thank you so much for believing God, for my complete healing! God is able! “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” We know the answer to that question! 🙂

  2. “Congratulations”!!! Your article was featured and only God knows how you’ll be used through that,praise God.
    Love you and I’m so happy for ya 😀 😀

  3. Thank you, Paulette, for getting the word out about RSD and giving others hope and confirmation for their journeys. You are a voice for Him! God bless you and hold you close.

    • Hi Debbie,

      Thank you so much for your encouragement, and your words of kindness! I know how frustrating it can be, to look to a doctor for answers, only to leave the office with feelings of hopelessness and despair! It is my desire to be, “A voice for Him!” As those who suffer from this syndrome read, may they also read about the “Great Physician” Jesus Christ, that they might look unto Him, for the healing of their bodies, and the saving of their souls!

      May God bless you, beyond measure!


    • Hi Pat,

      Thanks so much! I’m not feeling great at the moment, but I’m doing some better. Finally, I did get some sleep. I really appreciate your concern! I will chat with you later. 🙂


    • Hi Barbee,

      Thank you so much. I’m blessed and appreciative, that the Lord allowed our paths to cross. I have become quite the insomniac, since being diagnosed with this syndrome. Thank you for thinking of me, as I think of you often, as well. Praying that you will get a good night’s sleep, and that your pain level is down. God bless you, my friend.


    • Hello,

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate your kind words. I hope you’ll visit again.


  4. Hi
    Thank you for this Godly site! I don’t know if I have RSD. I was wondering if there is always swelling on only one side? I do have excruciating body pain! The burning and the deep non stop aches and much more. Even strong pain meds do not work.
    Also my face is completely swollen up. I have been told that I have Lyme Disease as well as Fibromyalgia but, I think it’s more then that. The pain is horrific and my limbs are swollen but equally on each side and not severely swollen.
    Any advice would be so appreciated.
    Thank YOU and May the Lord continue to bless U!
    Any one please fill free to email or call me!
    602 400-2200

    • Hello Kai,

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for commenting. Usually, burning pain is indicative of some type of nerve issue, or neuropathy going on. There are many conditions, that have some of the same symptoms in common with RSD. I would suggest that you set up a visit to see your Primary Physician, who would possibly give you a referral to see a neurologist. From that point on, what could possibly happen is that you would have a battery of tests performed, in order to exclude various illnesses. As stated above, the most effective way to ascertain whether or not someone is suffering from RSD, is to have a Clinical Diagnosis performed by a practicing specialist. Only a physician who is well-versed in the area of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome/RSD, should perform the Clinical Diagnosis.

      To answer your question pertaining to the edema or swelling, it’s possible to experience swelling on both sides of your body, if both sides are affected by RSD, or a different illness. I hope this information will be helpful to you. If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to write in. Take care, and may God bless you, abundantly!


  5. The only true consistent symptom for me is pain that has spread to involve both legs and my big toe nail is turning black. Has this happened to anybody else. How far into the disease did sensitivity to touch and skin changes occurre?
    In my town the medical community rarely sees RSD so although I’ve been diagnosed twice my pt still believes it is my back. The exercises he had me do made it worse so i quit going again. So frustrating.
    Tomorrow i go to Seattle to see a pm Dr. that has been suggested by someone here. Please pray it goes well I’m so tired.

    • RSD affects the skin, bones, muscles, and nerves. In my case, sensitivity occurred early on. I was wondering whether or not the limb on which the toenail is becoming dark, feels cool to the touch. RSD does affect blood flow, and it can affect the temperature of the affected limbs, as well as cause discoloration.

      I’m so glad that your wait to see the pain management doctor is almost over. The doctor may prescribe medication for you. It’s also possible that the doctor will suggest that you have a series of nerve blocks done. When I was seen by a pain management specialist for the first time, this was the route he took. “A stellate ganglion block is an injection of local anesthetic in the sympathetic nerve tissue of the neck. These nerves are a part of the sympathetic nervous system. The nerves are located on either side of the voice box, in the neck.” The link that I’ve added, will tell you a lot more about nerve blocks.

      I definitely understand that you are frustrated at this point. During my prayer time this afternoon, I prayed earnestly for you, and I will continue to pray for you. Please, let me know how your appointment goes with the doctor tomorrow, and if you have any other questions, please feel free to write in. I will be online for a while tonight. So, I should be able to respond to any comments you might have, shortly after they post. May the Lord bless you, abundantly!


      • Hi just got back. The new pain management Dr. at Swedish was very sweet. One of the few that understood the gravity of going from a healthy women to this mess. He believes most likely its type 1 RSD but sent me to another Dr. to make sure. He said 100% sure it isn’t my back. Will be going to her and also possibly a sympathetic block. Then I get home and my general practitioner office called and said no pain meds until Friday. Those pills are tiny and I dropped one and couldn’t find it then I was two short. I only take the as I should twice a day. Im tiered of being treated bad a feeling dirty like i have done something wrong. So needless to say preparing for some serious horrible pain for two days. This isn’t living loosing our health is bad but our dignity is far worse.

        • Hello,

          I’m so glad your appointment to see the pain specialist went well! Isn’t it great, to finally be seen by a doctor who understands what you are dealing with? I like the fact that he wants to be sure of his findings! I’m glad you are being seen by a doctor who is knowledgeable, and caring!….Have you ever tried using heat, in addition to your pain medication? I have found heat to be very effective in helping to control my pain, along with the meds. So, try the heat, and let me know if it is helpful. By the way, NEVER use ice with RSD! That is a huge no-no! Take care, and God bless!

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