Types of Therapy for RSD and Their Benefits

RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) is a form of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). This chronic…

teenagers in therapy session

RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) is a form of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). This chronic condition causes a number of debilitating symptoms, including burning pain in the extremities. Some individuals develop an extreme sensitivity to touch and tissue swelling.

People with RSD may find everyday tasks painful, and the chronic nature of the condition can diminish their quality of life. While there is no cure for RSD, there are several therapies that can help patients manage their symptoms.

Announcement: RSD is a chronic condition that requires proper treatment and therapy to overcome. Restoring the quality of life is possible, but it requires one or a combination of therapies to find relief. We’ll be discussing physical, psychological, occupational, pharmacological, and alternative therapy and each therapy’s benefits.

6 Types of Therapy for RSD and Their Benefits

1. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for RSD can involve several interventions, including:

  •       Range-of-motion exercises
  •       Muscle strengthening
  •       Graded motor imagery
  •       Functional training

Often, physical therapy is used as a first-line treatment for RSD, and there is evidence that graded motor imagery can reduce pain in adults. One big advantage of physical therapy is that it gets patients moving. In some cases, the exercises they perform can help them face fears of movements that would have otherwise left them in a constant state of stress.

2. Occupational Therapy

RSD can cause a few symptoms that make it difficult to perform routine tasks we take for granted, like bathing, getting dressed, cleaning the house, or performing office work.

Occupational therapy can help patients learn how to adapt and start performing daily, meaningful tasks again. The goal of occupational therapy is to help a patient improve their ability to participate in daily activities or any activity they want to engage in. It uses occupations, or everyday activities, to achieve this goal.

Unlike physical therapy, which focuses primarily on physical movement, occupational therapy takes a holistic approach to address not only the physical aspects of RSD but the mental and emotional as well.

3. Psychological Therapy

Although RSD is a neurological condition, it often coincides with anxiety, depression and stress. Chronic pain can take a toll on your mental health and exacerbate symptoms. Psychological therapy has been shown to be helpful for people with RSD.

Some of the most effective forms of psychological therapy for RSD include:


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients shift their thought patterns from negative to positive. Patients learn how to self-manage their pain and develop a number of coping skills to improve their quality of life, such as:

  •       Deep breathing
  •       Relaxation techniques
  •       Stress management
  •       Muscle relaxation
  •       Biofeedback

Many individuals also have pain-related fear avoidance, which prevents them from making certain movements out of fear that it will be painful. CBT also helps address this issue and, through gradual exposure therapy, allows patients to see that their fears are unwarranted.


DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy, is a type of talk therapy for patients who experience emotions intensely. DBT does two important things:

  •       It helps patients accept their reality and their behaviors
  •       It helps patients learn how to change unhelpful behaviors

Research has shown that DBT can be an effective form of RSD therapy for treating chronic pain by:

  •       Reducing pain intensity and depression
  •       Improving function


ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This form of psychotherapy is based on CBT methods. The goal is to help patients accept their pain rather than trying to suppress it and to be open to making positive changes to manage their condition.

ACT therapy has six main processes that help promote psychological flexibility. In addition to acceptance, patients commit to taking action that leads to positive changes in their lives.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy

Mindfulness-based therapy is a practice that helps patients stay in the present moment and learn to relax their bodies. Through this practice, patients learn to acknowledge their pain and accept it.

Body scan exercises can help the body relax, further alleviating the chronic pain associated with this condition.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy uses self-examination and self-reflection to get to the root cause of the patient’s emotional suffering.

The aim is to understand the unconscious or unknown motivations behind certain behaviors and feelings. It explores past experiences and how they shape the present moment. Over time, patients learn to let go of the past and work towards making positive changes.

Evidence suggests that psychodynamic therapy is effective for pain, including unexplained chronic pain.

Interpersonal Therapy

RSD often leads to depression that is challenging to overcome. Therapists will work with patients to identify the events that lead to depression and may be compounded by RSD. The goal of therapy is to redirect these emotions in a positive way.

4. Pharmacological Therapy

Pharmacological therapy for RSD focuses on restoring function and assisting with rehab programs. Multiple drugs and agents may be prescribed, including but not limited to:

  •       Topical agents, such as those containing lidocaine patches or ketamine
  •       Adrenergic drugs, although evidence on efficacy is lacking
  •       NMDA blockers, such as Ketamine
  •       Sodium channel blockers, such as lidocaine
  •       Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as NSAIDs
  •       Many others

This form of therapy works well when utilized with any other form of therapy on this list.

5. Alternative Therapy

Alternative therapy for rejection-sensitive dysphoria may provide relief using natural methods. Since these therapies use natural methods and supplements, the side effects are much lower than pharmacological options.

Therapy may include:

  •       Vitamin C helps with collagen synthesis, wound healing, and inflammation
  •       Epsom salt baths, which are known to reduce pain and help fight inflammation
  •       Magnesium supplements, which help reduce pain signals
  •       Bone broth, due to its infusion of minerals and nutrients

Naturalists can help create an alternative therapy routine based on a person’s condition, which may help reduce symptoms.

6. Combining Therapies

Combining multiple therapies together is the key to success with RSD. Therapy is often based on multiple pillars, including patient education, physical therapy, psychological therapy, and pain management.

The benefit of combining therapies is that you can touch on all of these pillars at once.

A multi-angle approach to therapy for RSD will help speed up progress and allow a person to maintain strength, flexibility, and circulation in the body part experiencing pain. Otherwise, a sufferer may neglect this limb, causing loss of function, flexibility, and strength.


Working with a healthcare professional to create a personalized therapy plan is crucial to success with therapy for RSD. Sufferers should seek out therapy to manage their symptoms and often find a blended approach works best.

Psychological therapy and physical therapy are the two most integral forms of therapy for patients, but by adding occupational, pharmacological and alternative therapy, can help speed up progress.

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