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Revista Dor

Print version ISSN 1806-0013

Rev. dor vol.13 no.3 São Paulo July/Sept. 2012 



Topic 4% lidocaine for occupational therapy of patients with complex regional pain syndrome. Case reports*



Anna Paula Moreira Alves MachadoI, José CostaII, Maria José CortesIII, Cecília Maria IzidoroIV, Louis BarrucandV, Nubia VerçosaVI

IAnesthesiologist of the Pain Service, Naval Hospital Marcilio Dias; Post-Graduation Student of Oncologic Pain and Palliative Care Specialization Course, School of Medicine, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (FM-UFRJ). Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
IIAnesthesiologist Responsible for the Teaching and Training Center, Naval Hospital Marcilio Dias (TSA/SBA). Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
IIIOccupational Therapist, Clinico f Traumato-Orthopedics, Naval Hospital Marcilio Dias. Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
IVAssistant Professor of the Nursing Department, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
VProfessor, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
VIAssociate Professor of the Surgery Department, School of Medicine, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (FM-UFRJ); Coordinator of the Oncologic Pain and Palliative Care Specialization Course (DC/FM-UFRJ). Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil

Correspondence to




BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a central nervous system disorder with sympathetic dysfunction. Its pathophysiology is not clear. There is peripheral inflammation and hypoxia. Pain distresses patients. These case reports aimed at evaluating topic 4% lidocaine during occupational therapy of outpatients with CRPS.
CASE REPORTS: Participated in this study five patients aged above 18 years, with upper limb CRPS types I and II, who were evaluated in six visits with an interval of seven days. In the first, they were medicated with gabapentin and in the other five the dose was increased. As from the second visit, topic 4% lidocaine was applied approximately 30 minutes before rehabilitation exercises. Four patients had CRPS type I. In decreasing order, referred symptoms were: sting, burning, allodynia, shock and paresthesia. All patients had edema and motor dysfunction. Topic 4% lidocaine allowed patients to perform the exercises proposed by the occupational therapist, in outpatient regimen, with significant pain intensity improvement.
CONCLUSION: Topic 4% lidocaine allowed rehabilitation with significant pain intensity improvement.

Keywords: Complex regional pain syndrome, Local anesthetics, Occupational therapy.




Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a central nervous system disorder with sympathetic dysfunction1. Its pathophysiology is not clear. Patients refer pain in the affected limb, allodynia, hyperalgesia, autonomic and trophic changes, loss of function, inflammation and hypoxia2,3.

CRPS is divided in two types: type I, when there is no nervous injury and previously called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and type II, when there is nervous injury and previously called causalgia. There is no specific treatment algorithm, being necessary a multimode, multidisciplinary and multiprofessional therapeutic approach.

Treatment alternatives are: antidepressants, anticonvulsants, local anesthetics, sympathetic blocks, vitamin C and opioids, among others. The participation of anesthesiologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists (OT), physical therapists, nurses and psychologists is important4. Desensitization with brushing techniques is also used, so that the affected limb may be handled and released for exercises proposed by OT or physical therapists aiming at returning the limb to its normal function. Isometric strengthening, stress load and aerobic conditioning are important. Several therapeutic proposals have been used, however few have been effective3.

This study aimed at reporting and evaluating the use of topic 4% lidocaine before occupational therapy in outpatients with CRPS.



Participated in this study 5 patients of the Pain Treatment Services, aged above 18 years with upper limb CRPS types I and II.

Four patients had CRPS type I and 3 patients were hypertensive under anti-hypertensive medication. CRPS causes were: right distal radius fracture; injury of right thumb extensor tendon and of the right hand flexor tendons, ulnar and median nerve; left radius and ulna fracture and left hand trauma caused by pantographic door.

There has been predominance of the sting symptom, followed by burning, allodynia, shock and paresthesia. Motor dysfunction and edema were present in all patients and all had an attitude of defense and fear of moving the affected limb. Sweating was present in 2 patients, edema in all patients, 3 patients had hyperemia and 2 presented cyanosis. Limb temperature was increased in 3 patients and decreased in 2.

Pain intensity was evaluated by visual analog scale (VAS) in the following moments: T0 – in the beginning of the evaluation; T30 – 30 minutes after beginning of activities carried out by OT and T60 – at the end of the evaluation. This scale measures pain in scores from zero to 10, being zero (no pain) and 10 (the worst possible pain).

Patients were evaluated in six visits with 7-day intervals. The first visit confirmed CRPS diagnosis and prescribed 300 mg of oral gabapentin at night. One patient was already under routine use of 25 mg amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant. Then, patients were referred to OT to be oriented on how to use topic 4% lidocaine protecting application site with plastic to favor absorption and decrease anesthetic dispersion.

In the next five visits pain intensity was evaluated (T0), 4% lidocaine was applied, occupational therapy was performed and pain was again evaluated 30 minutes after (T30). At the end of the visit pain was once more evaluated (T60).

Friedman's test for ordinal evaluation of score-dependent k was used for statistical analysis and Dunns test was used to show significant differences between two samples, within visits and between evaluations in moments T0, T30 and T60, considering significant p < 0.05.

As from the third visit sweating has decreased and was not detected during last visit. There has been edema decrease in the last visit. Hyperemia was less intense in the last visit for all patients, however cyanosis has remained in one patient and limb temperature which was increased in 3 patients has returned to normal; however, it remained decreased in 1 of 2 patients where it was decreased (Ghaph 1).



With regard to drugs, 4 patients received gabapentin in doses varying from 300 to 900 mg/day and one patient received pregabalin in doses varying from 75 to 125 mg/day, because he was sleepy with gabapentin. Only one patient used amitriptyline.

Pain intensity was significantly decreased (p < 0.05) in all patients between the first and the fifth visit, when moments T0 and T60 were compared. In moment T30, all patients had increased pain intensity in the five visits, however without statistical significance (Table 1).




CRPS is a progressive disease interfering with quality of life of patients due to pain and incapacity, which imposes distress to patients and to the multiprofessional team. In general, CRPS is triggered by a physical injury such as: fractures, torsions and surgeries. With regard to diagnosis, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) has published a consensus, in 1994, where the following criteria were defined: a) continuous pain disproportional to the initial event; b) presence of initial injury may be disregarded; c) signs and symptoms shall be divided in different groups; d) patients must have at least two of the following symptoms: sensory such as hyperesthesia, vasomotor such as change in temperature and color, sudomotor such as edema and sweating, and motor such as decreased motricity, weakness, shivering, functional limb amputation, or all; e) presence of at least two of the following signs: vasomotor, sudomotor and motor2,3.

Treatment has to be started early to allow patients' recovery, however in some situations the approach is ineffective and unsuccessful.

In a study where patients had mean age of 41 years there has been predominance of females in a ratio of 3:1, only one limb was affected and causes were: 65% trauma with fracture, 19% after surgery, 4% after venous puncture and 2% after inflammation5. In our group of 5 patients, mean age was 59 years with predominance of males with CRPS in one upper limb and the major cause was fracture with immobilization.

Treatment is multidisciplinary involving psychologists for cognitive behavioral treatment, physical therapists to orient exercises, occupational therapists for return to labor activities, anesthesiologists to induce blockades, psychiatrists to treat psychosocial disorders, in addition to nurses and dietitians, among others2,3.

There are several alternatives to treat CRPS: 1) sympathetic block2,6 of stellate ganglion with local anesthetics, however there may be numerous complications, such as vertebral or carotid artery puncture, subarachnoid space injection, pneumothorax and brachial plexus injury. All procedures should be carried out by an anesthesiologist in the operating center for patients' safety; 2) anticonvulsants such as gabapentin or pregabalin; 3) opioid anesthetics such as tramadol; 4) tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline and imipramine; non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids; 6) antioxidants such as vitamin C; 7) zoledronic acid; 8) 5% topic lidocaine patch1-3.

Topic 4% cream lidocaine was used for our group of patients 30 minutes before OT action. There has been pain increase in moment T30, however it allowed the exercises to be done. However, in moment T60 there has been pain intensity decrease.

As to frequency of signs and symptoms reported by the literature, there is predominance of burning, although some authors describe them as deep, excruciating and hot. Pain may be triggered by physical contact (allodynia), temperature changes and stress. Vasomotor changes are manifested as differences in temperature and color.

Edema intensity varies from mild to severe. Trophic skin and phaneros may be present or not. Sweating or anhidrosis are sudomotor disorders. CRPS motor disorders are: weakness, dystonia, muscle spasm, shivering, increased tone and difficulty to move. Physiological limb amputation may occur without nervous change2. The results of this group of patients confirm literature data.

Herpes  zoster has been treated with 5% lidocaine patch7,8. Cream 4% lidocaine was used for our group of patients. This technique has advantages for patients because it is not invasive and occupational therapy exercises may be carried out in outpatient settings, decreasing risks for patients and institutional costs. Lidocaine may cause sleepiness, dysarthria, dysphoria, dizziness, nausea, tinnitus and headache. These complaints were not reported by the patients of our study group. No heart monitoring was made, which is mandatory when venous lidocaine is used.

OT reports increased pain intensity, suggesting that a longer period may be necessary, probably 60 minutes, between lidocaine application and beginning of occupational therapy exercises, since in moment T60 there has been pain intensity decrease after the occupation therapy activity.



Cream lidocaine has allowed patients to perform exercises oriented by the occupational therapists in the outpatient setting. This technique may be used as alternative to brachial plexus block.



To Pain Services, National Cancer Institute (INCA1), Federal Hospital of Ipanema, State University of Rio de Janeiro, National Traumato-Orthopedics Institute, Hospital of State Public Servants and Federal Hospital Cardoso Fontes.



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Correspondence to:
Anna Paula Moreira Alves Machado, M.D.
Rua Álvares de Azevedo, 39/1102 – Icaraí
24220-020 Niterói, RJ.
Phones: (21) 2620-1157 - (21) 8523-0203

Submitted in January 18, 2012.
Accepted for publication in August 27, 2012.



* Received from the Oncologic Pain and Palliative Care Specialization Course, Surgery Department, School of Medicine, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (FM-UFRJ) and from Naval Hospital Marcilio Dias. Rio de Janeiro, RJ.

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