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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is also sometimes known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSD). This disorder results in chronic pain due to high levels of nerve impulses that are sent to the affected area of the body. Doctors believe that CRPS / RSD is caused by a disordered nervous system. While there is no known cure for CRPS / RSD, stem cell therapy has been shown to improve the symptoms of patients with this disorder.


Symptoms and Causes of CRPS / RSD

Complex regional pain syndrome / reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome is most common in women aged 20 – 35. While this disorder is not fully understood, there is no single cause for the resulting chronic pain. Instead, it is likely that a number of factors cause pain receptors in the affected areas of the body to become responsive to catecholamines, which are a group of nervous system messengers. CRPS / RSD sometimes occurs following injury, which is believed to be an immune system response. In this case, symptoms include redness and swelling of the affected area. Other CRPS / RSD symptoms include:

  • Burning sensations
  • Swollen / stiff joints
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Change in hair and nail growth in affected area
  • Changes in skin temperature
  • Changes in skin appearance
  • Changes in skin texture


The Benefits of Stem Cells

Analogous stem cells are cells that have been derived from a patient’s own body. For this reason, there is a low risk of an adverse immune reaction. While there are various types of autologous stem cells that can be harvested from patients, adipose (fat) derived stem cells have proved beneficial for numerous disorders.

Adipose derived stem cells are harvested from a patient’s own fat tissue, which has been shown to yield more stem cells than when they are harvested from blood or bone marrow. For many diseases, the number of stem cells used for therapy is important for success, which makes adipose derived stem cells particularly useful. For instance, for every 100 milliliters of adipose tissue obtained during liposuction, millions of stem cells can be harvested versus thousands from bone marrow.

Autologous adipose derived stem cells used here are derived from the stromal vascular fraction (SVF). The SVF contains pre-adipocyte, peri-vascular, and hematopoietic cells, among others. Cells are obtained under IRB-approved protocols, which yield 10 million to 40 million stem cells


Stem Cell Therapy for CRPS / RSD

In humans, stem cell therapy for CRPS / RSD has shown great promise. In a case study reported in Pan American Journal of Medical Thermology, a patient is described who underwent stem cell therapy for grade 3 CRPS / RSD. The patient suffered from chronic pain and tropic skin changes in her calf following facture care. Autologous, adult stem cells were harvested from the patient and then implanted into her calf for therapy. Within weeks, the patient’s symptoms improved significantly and she was able to bear weight on the affected area.1


Additionally, stem cells have been used successfully in the therapy of generalized musculoskeletal pain. A recent review provides a summary of how stem cells have proven beneficial for a novel therapy for chronic pain. Adipose derived stem cells are an exciting new frontier in the management of chronic pain because of their engraftment capability and ability to differentiate and integrate within the host for repair of damaged tissue. Recent studies have shown that adipose derived stem cells are also able to recruit local cells to induce repairs. For patients with CRPS / RSD, this defining characteristic can mean freedom from or decrease of pain.



  1. Pan Am J Med Thermol 1(2): 89-92
  2. World J Stem Cells. 2015 Jan 26; 7(1): 96–105.