eflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is a condition that is characterized by burning pain most often impacting an extremity such as the arms, legs, hands or feet. This burning pain is also associated with tenderness, varying degrees of sweating, warmth and/or coolness, flushing, discoloration and shiny skin. There is not information on how RSD occurs, but there are specific events that may trigger it. RSD often occurs in three stages, including acute, dystropic, and atrophic.

RSD is also referred to as complex regional pain syndrome, the shoulder-hand syndrome, causalgia and Sudeck’s atrophy.

Causes of RSD

The development of RSD doesn’t have a sole cause, and how it develops is poorly understood. As of now, there are only theories about why RSD develops, including irritation and abnormal excitation of nervous tissue that lead to abnormal impulses along nerves that affect blood vessels and skin. Facets involved in the development of RSD typically include the nervous system, peripheral nerves and the brain.

Triggers that May Cause RSD

There are many different events that are potential triggers for RSD, including injury, surgery, heart disease, degenerative arthritis of the neck, stroke or other brain diseases, nerve irritation by entrapment (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), shingles, shoulder problems, breast cancer, and drugs for tuberculosis and barbiturates.


The progression of symptoms for RSD may be either rapid or gradual and the condition does not necessarily show all symptoms. In up to half of people who have RSD, it is a bilateral condition, meaning it involves both sides of the body. The three stages of RSD include acute, dystophic and atrophic.

  • Acute: This stage usually lasts three to six months and involves symptoms like burning, flushing, blanching, sweating, swelling, pain and tenderness. X-rays during this stage may show patchiness or bone thinning.
  • Dystrophic: This stage also lasts three to six months and it is when skin begins to change. Skin may become shiny or thick and there is a consistent amount of pain that is accompanied by diminished swelling and flushing.
  • Atrophic: This stage may be long-standing and include the loss of motion or function in the hands or feet as well as the thinning of the underlayer of fatty skin.

Medical Marijuana for RSD

Medical cannabis can be effective in providing relief for RSD sufferers. Strains high in cannabidiol (CBD) in the form of oils, edibles and tinctures are effective in relieving nerve pain, minimizing inflammation, calming muscle spasms and aiding in joint stiffness. Topical lotions are also beneficial for relieving pain and reducing muscle spasms.

Visit Greenhouse once you have your registry identification card to see how medical marijuana can help improve your RSD.