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RSD Page: One Patient's Experience

The following is how one patient of mine experienced RSD after a distal radius fracture. She was kind enough to write about it, in the interest of helping other patients who have to face the same, rather difficult challenge. I am very grateful to her for sharing her experiences, and hope that reading this helps to prepare you to also overcome this problem. - Dr. Nelson

May 1, 2002


I was diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) after breaking my wrist and injuring nerves in my wrist on September 5, 2001. I haven't had the excruciating pain associated with the RSD. During the four or five months after the accident, my palm and fingers were painfully stiff most of the time. On a few occasions, I felt shooting pain in my forearm. Over these many months, there seemed to be very little improvement. I never had a disease that didn't get better almost daily, so I was worried about how long it would last. I experienced the following symptoms for six months after the accident:

As soon I got into bed, extreme stiffness set in. It was so severe that it woke me up at night. I couldn't move my fingers at all when I woke up.
During the day when I was active, my hand felt better (not as stiff) than when I was in bed or inactive. My index and middle fingers felt the worst. My injured hand was darker than my good hand, and it was shiny.
The creases at the joints on the back of my index finger were especially red in the morning and upon waking up.
Rotating my wrist caused shooting pain up my forearm on the little finger side.
Moving my wrist back and forth caused shooting pain up the thumb side.
Intermittent changes in the temperature, color, and stiffness occurred during the day.

Seven months after the injury, my injured hand looked less shiny and the color of it almost matches my good hand. My wrist was still swollen, especially at the ulnar joint, where I have a Brazilnut-sized goose egg. As I woke up, I could cup my hand slightly (bend the fingers 30 degrees) if I went to sleep with my hand outstretched, or I could release my closed fist slightly if I went to sleep with a closed fist. A few months ago, I could go to sleep only with my hand outstretched. Making a fist was too uncomfortable for going to sleep. During the day, my hand was pretty flexible, except rotation is painful. I feel the least stiff after swimming, so I do it almost daily. I could touch my palm with my thumb at the base of my little finger, but I couldn't move my thumb any further down my palm. Using my wrist too much caused a delayed pain reaction. For example, I went for a two-hour bicycle ride on a bumpy trail and the next day, my wrist hurt a little.

The pain from the injury during the first several months made me very grumpy. Now, I'm my happy self again, except when I wake up, I feel groggy. The groggy feeling goes away after 15 minutes or so of activity. Tissue damage, especially osteoporosis, caused by RSD worries me, so I started working out with light weights in December. I used the minimal weight on the Cybex row and arm extension machines for most of my weight lifting.

Eight months after the injury, the color of my hand looks normal. It's just a little shiny. The rate of healing seems to be improving. I feel less stiff every day. This morning when I woke up, I could almost close my fist. I didn't feel so groggy. I'm relieved and believe I might soon recover from RSD completely.

 ~ Kristine Hahn

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