Applying for SSDI: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome / Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome has also been called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (“RSD”), Sudeck’s atrophy, reflex neurovascular dystrophy, shoulder-hand syndrome (when it follows a stroke and affects an upper limb), algodystrophy, causalgia, and algoneurodystrophy. It is a condition that affects the nervous system and results in extreme, chronic pain, swelling, and limb dysfunction.

CRPS is classified into two different types:

Type 1 (“CRPS 1,” also formerly called “RSD”) arises after an injury or illness but without evidence of direct nerve damage in the body part that is affected. When you have CRPS 1 / RSD, your involuntary functions of the autonomic nervous system are affected, such as blood pressure, heart rate and the constriction of blood vessels. The exact cause of CRPS 1 is not fully understood.

Type 2 (“CRPS 2,” also formerly called “causalgia”) arises after a specific nerve injury. Both types of CRPS involve the same symptoms and progress through the same three stages if not treated successfully: acute, dystrophic, and atrophic.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Symptoms and Treatments

Symptoms of CRPS typically begin in a similar fashion for most sufferers. This includes a painful burning sensation in a body part, such as the palm, shoulder, arm or finger. It can start in just one place or several places at the same time. It may also occur in the hip, leg or knee. People will often experience skin redness. Over time, symptoms can evolve into inflammation, swelling, stiffness, muscle wasting/atrophy, and sensitivity. In time, it may become severely painful to simply touch an affected area or to even wear clothes or lie on sheets. As the disorder progresses without sufficient treatment, one may experience fixed joints/ankylosis, diminished bone mass, and severe muscle wasting/atrophy.

Treatment for RSD will be unique to the person as the symptoms surface and progress differently in everyone. It is recommended that treatment be sought as early as possible to prevent the development of symptoms and to prevent them entirely when possible. Physical therapy will be an essential component to the process along with other treatments, that might include splinting, electrical nerve stimulators, a sympathetic blockade procedure, and specific medications.

Does Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Qualify Me for Disability Benefits?

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome are not specifically discussed in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) “Blue Book” listing of disabling conditions. However, a person with this condition can certainly qualify for SSDI depending on their case.

Because there is no listing for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome, you’ll have to prove that your symptoms prevent you from being able to sustain work in a regular capacity. Proving pain can be difficult, even with evidence from a medical doctor. If you suffer from RSD / CRPS, it may be a good idea to work with a disability advocate who can help you complete the required paperwork and present your case to increase your chances of being approved for benefits. You will have to present all of the tests and examinations you have completed.

Remember, you don’t need to meet a Blue Book listing to qualify for disability benefits. Because, at the end of the day, what the SSA generally cares about most is whether or not your Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy meets certain requirements, including:

  • That it rises to the level of a “severe impairment”, meaning it impacts your ability to do work;
  • That it, combined with any other impairments you may have, prevent you from sustaining work;
  • That it has affected you, or is expected to affect you, for at least one year (or to result in death).

If that is the case, then you may very well qualify for monthly disability benefits.


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Next Steps

If you or a loved one have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and are considering a claim for disability benefits, we recommend you read our articles about the process of applying for SSDI and the way the Social Security Administration uses their Sequential Evaluation Process to determine disability.

This article is presented for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice. Medical decisions (including whether to start, stop, or modify any treatment plan) are extremely important and should always be made with the advice and counsel of a qualified medical professional.

About Citizens Disability, LLC:

Since 2010, Citizens Disability has been America’s premier Social Security Disability institution. Our services include helping people in applying for SSDI benefits, managing the process through Reconsideration, and representing people in person at their Hearing, and if necessary, bringing their case to the Appeals Council. Our mission is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who are disabled and unable to work, helping them receive the Social Security Disability benefits to which they may be entitled. Learn more about us and disability benefits like SSDI & SSI or give us a call at (800)492-3260.