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Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy / brachial plexopathy

Lala329LLala329 Posts: 283
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:39 AM in Chronic Pain
I was wondering if any of my fellow spineys have dealt with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I know this condition is not specific to spine patients, but it is a known complication of spinal surgery and is more likely to occur in chronic pain patients so I was hoping someone on the board would have some experience with it.

To make a long story short, I am usually a lumbar spiney but following my surgery I developed shoulder pain and weakness. Testing revealed damage to the brachial plexus of unknown etiology because there was no trauma. It's possible the injury occurred on the OR table, or it could have been triggered by a virus. In addition to the brachial plexopathy I was also diagnosed with RSD in my arm. My guess is that c-spine people may be familiar with this type of thing because brachial plexus issues can come from the cervical spine (but my MRI showed my neck is fine).

I have done as much research as I can into RSD and have basically found that the condition is not well understood and there are no standard treatment guidelines. Right now I'm being treated with physical therapy and waiting to see if that will help. As we all know from dealing with spine pain, it is overwhelming trying to navigate the medical system and to make treatment decisions. If anyone has any information or personal experience they could share I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!


  • Well I am by no means an expert on RSD/CRPS, but I can share my experience. After having 2 posterior cervical surgeries, both of which I was placed in position with Mayfield skull pins and strapped tightly so I wouldn't move, I began experiencing weakness, burning and muscle atrophy in my neck and shoulders. I had MRI's of both brachial plexus done, that came back looking fine, but two docs said I was developing RSD in my shoulders. I wasn't too concerned about a diagnosis, rather I was concerned about the development of winging scapulas and increased pain. The docs stayed on it and did their best.

    Anyway, about a year later, I had an SCS trial and permanent implant done to control that pain and the pain into my arms and hands. Of course on paperwork the official diagnosis is "post cervical laminectomy syndrome". Well that and 2 bucks will get you a cup of coffee, but that's about all.

    Spinal cord stimulation is known to help with the pain and burning from RSD. It is also known to promote increased circulation as a nice side effect. All I can say is that the SCS really helps with the pain and burning in my neck, shoulders, arms and hands.

    Has your doc brought up the idea of doing an SCS trial?

    My SCS is in my c-spine and provides coverage from the side of my head, through my neck, shoulders, arms and into my fingers.

    I hope you can get some answers. Keep your doc on his toes and if you feel he is out of his league on this, ask for a referral to someone who specifically deals with RSD.

    Hang in there,

  • I really don't have a lot to offer other than to agree with "C". After reading about brachial plexus injury and just reading "C"s post I am somewhat flabbergasted....I ran a quick google search and found a link to Mayo clinic and read it. What blows my mind away is the simple fact that my injury type EXACTLY follows or is described by the site as the most likely cause of a brachial plexus injury.

    I'm not completely wordless here, sorry if I run on.
    I was mountainbiking, went over the handlebars, landed on my head and right shoulder, forcing my head back till I fractured C7, T3, T4, T5. While that was going on I slammed my shoulder into the ground pushing it down and in, shattering my Collarbone in to 4 pieces.

    So, I had to have the clavicle pinned. Shoulder pain developed, I was scoped, nothing much found, pain increased, they did an mri of the shoulder and my neck and found avascular necrosis of the humerous. Had a partial shoulder replacement.

    To end it all, well best as it gets I to have an SCS. Yes it helps, its not perfect but it helps.

    Sorry for wrambling on so, it's just that in 3 years of surgery, mri and all I never heard the words brachial plexus mentioned. I sometimes wonder if WV is on planet earth? Maybe the docs looked for it, maybe Its fine. I doubt there is anything that can be done.

    Ask about an SCS trial.
    I'll shut up now...

    EDIT: to add to the irony of it all.
    With an SCS in place they can't do an mri to look at it :''( =)) :''(
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