Physiotherapy for pain and disability in adults with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) types I and II

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Background: Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a painful and disabling condition that usually manifests in response to trauma or surgery and is associated with significant pain and disability. CRPS can be classified into two types: type I (CRPS I) in which a specific nerve lesion has not been identified and type II (CRPS II) where there is an identifiable nerve lesion. Guidelines recommend the inclusion of a variety of physiotherapy interventions as part of the multimodal treatment of people with CRPS. This is the first update of the review originally published in Issue 2, 2016. Objectives: To determine the effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions for treating pain and disability associated with CRPS types I and II in adults. Search methods: For this update we searched CENTRAL (the Cochrane Library), MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO, LILACS, PEDro, Web of Science, DARE and Health Technology Assessments from February 2015 to July 2021 without language restrictions, we searched the reference lists of included studies and we contacted an expert in the field. We also searched additional online sources for unpublished trials and trials in progress. Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of physiotherapy interventions compared with placebo, no treatment, another intervention or usual care, or other physiotherapy interventions in adults with CRPS I and II. Primary outcomes were pain intensity and disability. Secondary outcomes were composite scores for CRPS symptoms, health-related quality of life (HRQoL), patient global impression of change (PGIC) scales and adverse effects. Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened database searches for eligibility, extracted data, evaluated risk of bias and assessed the certainty of evidence using the GRADE system. Main results: We included 16 new trials (600 participants) along with the 18 trials from the original review totalling 34 RCTs (1339 participants). Thirty-three trials included participants with CRPS I and one trial included participants with CRPS II. Included trials compared a diverse range of interventions including physical rehabilitation, electrotherapy modalities, cortically directed rehabilitation, electroacupuncture and exposure-based approaches. Most interventions were tested in small, single trials. Most were at high risk of bias overall (27 trials) and the remainder were at 'unclear' risk of bias (seven trials). For all comparisons and outcomes where we found evidence, we graded the certainty of the evidence as very low, downgraded due to serious study limitations, imprecision and inconsistency. Included trials rarely reported adverse effects. Physiotherapy compared with minimal care for adults with CRPS I. One trial (135 participants) of multimodal physiotherapy, for which pain data were unavailable, found no between-group differences in pain intensity at 12-month follow-up. Multimodal physiotherapy demonstrated a small between-group improvement in disability at 12 months follow-up compared to an attention control (Impairment Level Sum score, 5 to 50 scale; mean difference (MD) -3.7, 95% confidence interval (CI) -7.13 to -0.27) (very low-certainty evidence). Equivalent data for pain were not available. Details regarding adverse events were not reported. Physiotherapy compared with minimal care for adults with CRPS II. We did not find any trials of physiotherapy compared with minimal care for adults with CRPS II. Authors' conclusions: The evidence is very uncertain about the effects of physiotherapy interventions on pain and disability in CRPS. This conclusion is similar to our 2016 review. Large-scale, high-quality RCTs with longer-term follow-up are required to test the effectiveness of physiotherapy-based interventions for treating pain and disability in adults with CRPS I and II.




Smart, K. M., Ferraro, M. C., Wand, B. M., & O’Connell, N. E. (2022, May 17). Physiotherapy for pain and disability in adults with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) types I and II. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

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