RSD is a disease that is poorly understood by patients, their families and health care professionals. In some, the disease is mild, in some it is moderate, and in others, it is a severe condition. We have been made aware of the problems faced by patients with RSD through thousands of phone calls and letters.      These 'Facts and Fiction'  were compiled by RSDSA of America

RSDSA of America    
Haddonfield, New Jersey

1) Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is rare.

FACT- It is not a rare disorder, and may affect millions of people in this country. The syndrome may follow 5% of all injuries. Diagnosis is often not made in the early stage of RSD, and some of the very mild cases resolve with no treatment. Other cases may progress through the stages and become chronic and debilitating.


2) RSD is a recently discovered disease.

FACT - It was described during the Civil War, and has been in literature under a variety of names ever since.

3) RSD does not spread.

FACT - RSD does spread in 70% of patients. The usual pattern of spread is up the same extremity and then may continue to spread on the same side of the body, or to the opposite extremity.

4) RSD will burn itself out in 6 months.

FACT - Many patients who are not treated early will experience spread of RSD, and this may become a lifelong problem. Even with early treatment, RSD may become a chronic condition.

5) Minor injuries cannot cause RSD.

FACT - Minor injuries, such as sprain or a fall, are frequent causes of RSD. It can start immediately after the injury, or up to several days later. One characteristic of RSD is that the pain is more severe than expected for the type of injury that occurred.

6) A painful limb should be casted.

FACT - Casting and immobilization can cause a worsening of RSD symptoms. In some cases, it may be necessary, but great care should be taken.

7) Vigorous and aggressive physical therapy is best.

FACT - Physical therapy should be carried out only under a physician's supervision. Osteoporosis occurs with RSD, and as a result of bone loss, pathological fractures can be caused by overly aggressive therapy. Additionally, nerve entrapment and other disorders are sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as RSD. Proper diagnosis should be obtained by a competent physician.

Physical therapy should be a part of the pain control program. The goal is to keep the limb moving and have the patient be able to perform the normal activities of daily living.

8) The treatment for all RSD patients should be the same.

FACT - Each patient needs an individual treatment plan. What helps one patient may not help another.

9) The pain is not as bad as the patient says it is.

FACT - The pain is often as bad as claimed, and may be even worse.

10) RSD occurs in psychologically unbalanced people.

FACT - Persons who get RSD are not any different than the rest of the population psychologically. Once they get RSD, and they are in constant pain, they may become depressed and suffer other psychological changes. When the symptoms of RSD are relieved, these changes will disappear.

11) If a patient has no visible signs or positive tests, they do not have RSD.

FACT - RSD is a clinical diagnosis. This means that the doctor makes the diagnosis based on a thorough history and physical examination. A number of diagnostic tests may be ordered to rule out other disorders, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, disk disease, etc.

There may be changes compatible with RSD on x-ray, bone scan, thermography and other tests.

12) RSD following surgery means the doctor did something wrong.

FACT - Just as RSD can follow mild trauma, it can follow surgery which causes the same type of response in the body as an injury.

13) There is no hope for patients who have had RSD for a long time.

FACT - The future of RSD is very hopeful. There is research going on in a number of Institutions in this country and around the world. Research involving the basic processes that cause RSD, as well as finding effective treatment is being studied.

Groups of physicians and scientists are meeting in conferences and seminars to reach an understanding of what RSD is and what causes it.



Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Association of California

PO Box 771 * San Marcos, CA 92079-0771

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