Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), now also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), is a condition that is thought to arise for a combination of reasons, but its etiology is not clear. People with the disorder experience changes to their skin, swelling, and bone loss. One hallmark of the condition is the experience of nonspecific pain that is sensitive to weather. Unfortunately, managing RSD is often difficult. Patients with RSD/CRPS may have a hard time walking because of pain and may need assistive devices.
Clinical management of RSD/CRPS often involves things like pharmaceutical medications and restorative therapies, but these strategies are limited in their effectiveness. As a result, most patients with RSD experience chronic pain and a lower quality of life than those without the disorder. A case report has described the innovative use of stem cells to treat a patient with Stage 3 RSD. The rationale for using stem cells against RSD is that stem cells have provided regenerative benefits in a variety of other disorders and are capable of promoting the generation of blood vessels, which can support healing.
The patient, who was a female Registered Nurse, had been experiencing pain in her left lower extremity after an operation aimed at fixing a complex fracture. Following the surgery, the patient had been suffering from nonspecific pain and was diagnosed with a form of RSD/CRPS. She subsequently underwent months of aggressive therapy, but the therapy failed in helping her to walk. Instead, she was left unable to bear weight on her left leg.
Given that the patient’s problems persistent despite conventional treatment options, the patient was given stem cell therapy. Specifically, cells were harvested from the bone marrow and grafted to the calf in the hopes that blood flow would be enhanced, and the symptoms would be eliminated. According to the author of the report, the results of this stem cell therapy were excellent.
After just 2 weeks, skin symptoms were already going away, as was the patient’s pain. Critically, the patient was also able to put some weight on her left leg. By 30 days post-procedure, she was able to rid herself of assistive walking devices. These results demonstrate the promise of stem cells to help with complex and difficult-to-manage medical conditions like RSD/CRPS. Further research will help to determine the best way that stem cells may be used to treat other RSD patients.
Reference: Schwartz, R.G. Stem cells for the treatment of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)/ reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD): A case study Pan American Journal of Medical Terminology, 1(2), 89-92.