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Complex regional pain syndrome: a focus on the autonomic nervous system

Knudsen, L.F., Terkelsen, A.J., Drummond, P.D.ORCID: 0000-0002-3711-8737 and Birklein, F. (2019) Complex regional pain syndrome: a focus on the autonomic nervous system. Clinical Autonomic Research, 29 (4). pp. 457-467.

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Although autonomic features are part of the diagnostic criteria for complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), the role of the autonomic nervous system in CRPS pathophysiology has been downplayed in recent years. The purpose of this review is to redress this imbalance.


We focus in this review on the contribution of the autonomic nervous system to CRPS pathophysiology. In particular, we discuss regional sympathetic and systemic autonomic disturbances in CRPS and the mechanisms which may underlie them, and consider links between these mechanisms, immune disturbances and pain.


The focused literature research revealed that immune reactions, alterations in receptor populations (e.g., upregulation of adrenoceptors and reduced cutaneous nerve fiber density) and central changes in autonomic drive seem to contribute to regional and systemic disturbances in sympathetic activity and to sympathetically maintained pain in CRPS.


We conclude that alterations in the sympathetic nervous system contribute to CRPS pathology. Understanding these alterations may be an important step towards providing appropriate treatments for CRPS.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): College of Science, Health, Engineering and Education
Publisher: Dr. Dietrich Steinkopff Verlag GmbH and Co. KG
Copyright: © 2019, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature
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