Sudeck’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis

What is Sudeck’s Disease?

Sudeck’s Disease, which is also known by the name of Sudeck dystrophy, is an inflammatory connective tissue disorder which occurs normally after an injury to the upper or lower extremities namely the hand, arm, foot or leg. The main characteristics of Sudeck’s Disease are persistent pain, swelling, and difficulty to move the joints.

Additionally, there is also skin discoloration and temperature differences at the site of the injury after healing of the wound. In extreme cases of Sudeck’s Disease, there is complete loss of function of the affected extremity as a result of this condition.

What is Sudeck's Disease?

Sudeck’s Disease is a condition which can be treated successfully provided the treatment begins early in the disease process. Postmenopausal females are more at risk for developing Sudeck’s Disease.

What are the Causes of Sudeck’s Disease?

As stated, Sudeck’s Disease begins after an injury to the upper or lower extremity. This injury can be in the form of a motor vehicle crash, fractures, sprains, gunshot wounds. An injury caused during a routine surgical procedure can also lead to development of Sudeck’s Disease.

A local infection resulting in a wound may also cause Sudeck’s Disease. Certain neurological diseases also can cause Sudeck’s Disease. In some cases, there is no known cause for development of Sudeck’s Disease but these incidences are extremely rare.

The development of Sudeck’s Disease does not depend on the severity of the injury. Even a slight sprain in the shoulder or foot can lead to development of Sudeck’s Disease. This is precisely why some researchers are of the belief that excessive reflex mechanism of the body is the main reason behind Sudeck’s Disease.

Also, in some cases certain psychological stressors also play a role in development of Sudeck’s Disease. As of now, it is not clear as to why when a same surgery is performed on two different individuals one remains normal and one goes on to develop Sudeck’s Disease.

What are the Symptoms of Sudeck’s Disease?

Some of the symptoms of Sudeck’s Disease are:

  • Severe pain with movement or at rest
  • Skin discoloration at the site of the injury with the skin becoming bluish in color can be a symptom of Sudeck’s Disease
  • Temperature differences with the injured area being warmer than the other unaffected areas of the body and then becoming cooler than the unaffected areas of the body
  • Swelling at the injured site
  • Difficulty moving the joint even after the injury completely heals
  • Muscular atrophy in advanced stages of the disease process
  • Skin atrophy
  • Onset of osteoporosis

How is Sudeck’s Disease Diagnosed?

There are no investigational studies to confirm the diagnosis of Sudeck’s Disease. The diagnosis is purely made out of the history of the patient and the physical examination findings. Temperature changes between the injured part and the unaffected areas of the body are the best tool to diagnose Sudeck’s Disease.

Additionally, advanced radiological studies to identify any decalcification are also quite helpful in diagnosing Sudeck’s Disease. The pain and swelling caused due to Sudeck’s Disease may also be caused due to other medical conditions also and hence all other conditions need to be ruled out before arriving at a diagnosis of Sudeck’s Disease.

How is Sudeck’s Disease Treated?

The best chance of successfully treating Sudeck’s Disease is when treatment is started early. The treatment is usually done in an inpatient setting in a hospital by a group of specialists to include rheumatologists, anesthesiologists, neurologists, and orthopedists.

An input from all of them increases the chances of successful treatment of Sudeck’s Disease. The main aim of treatment is to restore functionality and mobility of the affected limb. The treatment for Sudeck’s Disease takes a lot of time and requires a great amount of patience not only from the patient but also by the physician.

Some of the medications used to treat pain caused by Sudeck’s Disease are antirheumatic drugs, antidepressants in case if the patient is not able to sleep due to pain, and NSAIDs.

In some cases, opiates may be prescribed in a controlled manner to treat pain caused by Sudeck’s Disease. Other medications utilized for treating Sudeck’s Disease are medications which block bone loss or bone destruction like calcitonin.

Additionally, physical and occupational therapy are also of great benefit in strengthening and getting the mobility back to the affected joint post injury and onset of Sudeck’s Disease. Utilization of TENS unit has also shown quite a bit of effectiveness in treatment of Sudeck’s Disease.

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