Reflex Sympathetic DystrophyReflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is a condition that features symptoms which include “burning” type pain, tenderness, and swelling of an extremity associated with varying degrees of sweating, warmth and/or coolness, flushing, discoloration, and shiny skin. RSD is also referred to as “complex regional pain syndrome,” “the shoulder-hand syndrome,” “causalgia,” and “Sudeck’s atrophy.” (Source:

The causes of reflex sympathetic dystrophy are not clearly understood. Abnormal impulses along nerves that affect blood vessels and skin caused by irritation and abnormal excitation of nervous tissue is one major theory.

Common triggers of RSD include:

  • Injury
  • Surgery
  • Heart disease
  • Degenerative arthritis of the neck
  • Stroke or other brain diseases
  • Nerve irritation by entrapment (such as carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Shingles
  • Shoulder problems
  • Breast cancer
  • Drugs for tuberculosis and barbiturates
  • Fibromyalgia has been reported to coexist with RSD in some people.

Symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy can vary and the onset can be gradual or rapid for each individual. The different stages that are associated with RSD are:

  1. Acute (three to six months): burning, flushing, blanching, sweating, swelling, pain, and tenderness. This stage can show early X-ray changes of patchy bone thinning.
  2. Dystrophic (three to six months): early skin changes of shiny, thickened skin and contracture with persistent pain, but diminished swelling and flushing.
  3. Atrophic (may be long-standing): loss of motion and function of the involved hand or foot with contracture (flexed scarring process), and thinning of the fatty layers under the skin. X-ray can show significant osteoporosis.

Patients who begin treatments during early onset of RSD have a greater response. Common treatments include: cool, moist applications to affected area, gradual exercise, medications for pain and to reduce symptoms, prednisone, and surgery.

Attorney Jim Brady was one of the first attorneys in Massachusetts to handle reflex sympathetic syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome cases. We have prosecuted numerous RSD cases for for our clients for over 28 years. If you or a loved one has suffered from either of these conditions due to a personal injury caused by the carelessness of another, please contact us at: 508-660-8888 or visit us on the web at: