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What is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is also referred to as complex regional pain syndrome. It is a rare affliction of the sympathetic nervous system characterized by severe, chronic pain. Part of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system regulates involuntary functions of the body such as constricting blood vessels, regulating the heart rate, and increasing blood pressure.

The pain associated with reflex sympathetic dystrophy is thought to be due to excessive or abnormal responses of portions of the sympathetic nervous system. The symptoms of this disorder typically begin with burning pain, usually in the finger, hand, arm, or shoulder. Some people experience pain in both legs or the pain may be localized in one hip or knee.

RSD is often misdiagnosed as a painful nerve injury. The skin over the affected area(s) may become swollen and inflamed. The affected skin may be extremely sensitive to hot or cold temperatures or to the slightest touch. Excessive perspiration may affect the limbs involved, and they may feel warm to the touch.


The exact cause of RSD is not fully understood. However, it is thought to be associated with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, infection, radiation therapy, surgery, trauma, and injury to the nerves.

Injury Induced Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

RSD can be triggered by an injury such as a sprain, fracture, or even a cut. Even after the most severe injury, pain usually disappears within six weeks as part of the healing process. However, the symptoms of RSD may appear days, weeks, or even months after the initial injury.

The chronic pain caused by RSD is thought to be related to the inability of the sympathetic nervous system to shut down after an injury. When diagnosed promptly and treated early, RSD is curable. Conversely, if it remains undiagnosed and allowed to progress, it will inevitably lead to permanent deformities, stiffening of the limbs, and will spread to other segments of the body.

RSD does not significantly shorten the patient’s lifespan, but at the advanced stages of the illness, all patients will suffer from significant psychiatric problems and narcotic dependency-and will become completely incapacitated by the disease. This can mean facing years of continuous, severe pain.

How We Can Help

If you or someone you love is suffering from RSD that was triggered by any type of injury, or misdiagnosed by a medical professional, you may be eligible for compensation. At Shea Law Group, you will be able to discuss your case with a knowledgeable and experienced Chicago personal injury attorney who understands what you are going through. Our compassionate legal team has handled thousands of injury cases and many involving patients suffering from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. Give us a call today.