What is Algodystrophy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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Algodystrophy is a progressive disease, usually originating in the hands, where the bone, tissue, and skin undergo painful changes in response to trauma. It is also known as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), algesidystrophy, or reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Patients with this condition can experience permanent impairments as a result of muscle contractures and pain associated with algodystrophy. Treatment options are available, although the condition cannot be cured.

The reasons this condition develops are not clear. It usually occurs in response to trauma, but it can be hard to predict what kinds of trauma will lead to algodystrophy. The condition starts with tingling pain in the hand that radiates slowly up the arm. The skin often becomes red and irritated, and patients start experiencing severe joint pain. Sometimes, nerve damage occurs and patients may develop areas of grayed skin caused by poor oxygenation.

Over time, this condition can cause contractures, where the muscles pull up short. This can cause the hand to start curling in on itself. The patient will have trouble straightening the fingers and may lose use of the hand altogether. The contractures can also be very painful. Bone and cartilage growth will be disrupted and the patient's hand and arm often begin to waste, shrinking down in size considerably in some cases. The knuckles and joints may swell as a result of inflammation, and the hand may take on a gnarled, knobbly appearance.


Treatment can include pain management medications to address the pain of the condition. Algodystrophy can also be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and make the patient feel more comfortable. This can include steroid injections into the site. Physical therapy is sometimes helpful for retaining as much use of the affected arm as possible. Some patients also benefit from treatments like electrical nerve stimulation to disrupt pain signals or surgeries to sever key nerves if the pain doesn't respond to other treatments.

If a patient appears to be developing this condition, a doctor will usually order some screening tests. This is done to rule out conditions like cellulitis and other infections, which may cause similar symptoms in the beginning. Medical imaging studies can be useful for spotting joint inflammation, as well as changes to the bones and joints. Careful diagnostic evaluation is important, as the approach to treatment will change if the condition is not algodystrophy, and it may be possible to cure the patient if the cause of the pain is another disease.


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Post 6

@starrynight: I'm not a hypochondriac. This is a real disability and it cannot be treated with steroids. I have tried them also. I hear all the time from people who don't understand, but seem to think they know best. So if you're not a doctor, go away. That's all I can say.

Post 5

The only way I can describe algodystrophy is it’s like being tortured but you can’t say anything to stop the pain.

Post 4

My story of Algodystrophy so far.

I had an accident at work in 1988. I was working on a large machine, hit my knee on a tap to drain the oil then fell about six feet and landed on my right knee. I was taken to the hospital and they operated on my knee and I was put in plaster for two weeks. I was given physiotherapy for four weeks and seemed to get on OK, apart from some pain and tenderness also swelling.

I went to the hospital and spoke to the doctors, and they said I would have to build up the muscles in my leg, so I had more physiotherapy and I started cycling. The pain started

to ease with pain killers as well. After six months I went back to the hospital. I had stopped the pain killers, but still getting the pain and my knee area was very tender to touch. Then my knee started to lock. This happened when I was cycling one day and I was stuck on the roadside until a farmer picked me up later that afternoon and called an ambulance and I went to the hospital. That was in 1990, and the surgeon at the hospital operated on my leg again. Then I had more physiotherapy and after three months, the surgeon said he wanted me to see a pain specialist. By this time I was in a great deal of pain and taking pain killers. I also had a leg brace as my leg was not stable. I lost my job in 1990.

The pain specialist started me on guanethidine blocks. This is a horrible drug, that leaves you like a zombie for a week or so. I had one every month for eight months, but it did not work. I had various other things done that failed, too. By this time my leg was really bad. I had rope burns where the liquid just drips off the leg and it was red raw. I had countless epidurals that helped give me some relief. Then the specialist said he was sending me to Basingstoke hospital to see another pain specialist.


After some time I had a medtronic nerve stimulator, which worked. This gave me around 50 percent pain relief, but I also lost the feeling from my ankle down. This was nothing to do with the stimulator, so with some pain killers, I managed to go back to work. Not at the same job. The stimulator worked OK, but my leg had breakouts, sores and infections. But I managed to carry on working.

It’s strange the way people behave around me. I have one boss say I should take holiday instead of taken sick pay. I had to take this for 10 years, which made me suffer even more. I had to retrain myself , which I have done, but I still get treated different from everyone else.

In 2010 I started getting pain in my right leg and arm, well all down my right had side, so I started taken stronger drugs. After seeing another pain specialist in Peterborough, I was sent to see another specialist in Orsett Essex in 2012. I had another stimulator -- the Boston one -- which is OK. The first time it was just the right leg. In 2015 I had some extra wires installed so the stimulator now covers most of the right hand side of my body mainly my shoulder, arm and hand. I am still going. Sorry this is a bit long.

Post 2

@SZapper - Are you a bit of a hypochondriac? I don't think this disease is very common, so you probably shouldn't worry about it too much.

This disease almost sounds kind of similar to an autoimmune disease. I know steroids are used as a treatment for a lot of those diseases too.

Post 1

This disease sounds awful. We use our hands for a ton of stuff every day. Like typing, for example!

I can't believe that trauma can cause such a severe, long lasting disease. Now I'm thinking about all the times that I've injured my hands and it's got me really scared I could develop this disease. I think I'm going to be a lot more careful with my hands from now on.

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