Dealing with CRPS

Bernadette Lancefield
Bry has a vision impairment. Six years ago she broke her left leg at university. But the pain never stopped. Bry was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome. She has ongoing pain in her left leg. It swells around the knee and ankle and the skin is cooler than her right leg. Bry takes medication each day for the pain and swelling. It can be hard for her to meet friends and plan activities. This is because the pain comes and goes. Bry likes baking, performing in theatre and having dinner parties. She tries to enjoy life.
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Bernadette Lancefield on 29/08/2012
A close up of the knee area with fingers pressing down into the skin.

The left leg is cooler to touch.

Bry is a friendly, bubbly and outgoing 26 year-old woman. She has a vision impairment and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Bry was diagnosed with CRPS in January 2006.

What is CRPS?

CRPS is an uncommon condition where a person experiences chronic and often severe pain, usually in their arm or leg. It is most often seen after an injury, stroke or heart attack. The cause of CRPS is not well understood.

Bry developed the condition after an injury six years ago.

I broke my left leg in a rehearsal for a play at uni. The pain never went away, Bry says.

CRPS symptoms

Bry says the main symptom of her condition is intense and chronic pain. It has gotten worse over the years and has spread around my leg. Sometimes the pain will be more intense and, at other times, less severe.

Another symptom of CRPS is changes in skin temperature and swelling in the affected area.

There's a pretty distinct temperature difference between my legs. The left leg is cooler than my right leg. I also have sensitivity and severe swelling around the knee and ankle.

Managing her CRPS

Over the years Bry has developed different strategies to manage her illness. I find it helpful to try different approaches and I see a pain psychologist to help me have a better frame of mind.

She has to take prescribed morphine every day and has regular spinal block procedures, which involves injecting medicine into the affected nerves around the spinal column. Magnesium helps to ease her muscle spasms.

Bry also tries to manage her CPRS by planning her time so that she has a slow trickle of activities.

That way, my pain doesn't go up and down so much. Some people think that doing this is conceding to pain, but if I don't do it then the pain will rule my life because it will get out of control.

A source of enjoyment and comfort

Bry tries not to let anything hold her back in life. She enjoys reading, going out with friends and throwing dinner parties. A few years ago she completed a cupcake decorating course. I have really enjoyed being able to make engagement cakes and other cakes for special occasions for friends and family. She even baked her sister's wedding cake, which was made up of cupcakes.

After studying performing arts at Monash University, she continues to do local theatre stuff on and off including performing and directing shows.

Bry describes her pet dog Honor and guide dog Nancy as being an amazing source of comfort.

They give me so much love and affection and physical warmth. They are definitely a calming influence, particularly if I'm having a bad day.

Social implications of CRPS

Bry admits the social implications of her condition are steep.

I'm a pretty big canceller or re-scheduler. While I've gotten better at this, it would be great if people realised that my illness is really unpredictable and that what I do to deal with the pain won't always work.

She finds spending a lot of time at home isolating. I can't go into the city and go bar-hopping. But one or two friends have stuck by her and she's made new friends.

Doing her best

Bry says she doing her best to manage her illness. She's had to make changes to her lifestyle and concedes it's been a learning curve.

She believes thinking positively is important for her wellbeing.

While there are going to be times when I'm having a bad day, that's not me conceding to defeat, it's just me having a bad day.

I try not to be bitter about what I've lost. Life is still pretty good and I'm hoping it's only going to get better.

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