What is RSD / Chronic Pain?

What is RSD / Chronic Pain?

Workers’ compensation claims aren’t the result of a traumatic industrial accident involving heavy machinery or a severely injured body part.  Sometimes a work-related injuries, such as RSD, can be more subtle, less visible—but still produce the same life-affecting results.

RSD Woman in Pain

RSD can be debilitating

One common chronic injury that often give rise to workers’ compensation claims in Minnesota is Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and is catagarized by chronic, severe pain that worsens over over time. You might also know it as Sudeck’s Atrophy, or Causalgia (which is actually a slight variation from the condition).


The disorder involves an intense burning pain and/or stiffness and swelling in the limbs, frequently the hands. Nerve damage is the cause of RSD; though, it can stem from injuries that did not directly affect a nerve.  Swelling is one of the major, and easy to distinguish, symptoms of the condition.

Treatment can be difficult since the condition is not well-understood, but treatment will generally involve anti-inflammatories, anesthetic, and physical therapy.  Surgery could be recommended in some cases.

Workers’ Compensation Claims & RSD

RSD is poorly understood and may be difficult to determine. The nature of the illness can render a workers’ compensation claim more tricky than claim for a broken leg.  Don’t worry—you’re not out of luck.  Claims based on RSD/CRPS can succeed with the right evidence.  It is important to seek an expert’s opinion to establish exactly how your work-related injury triggered the RSD. It is also important to establish how and why the expert was able to exclude other conditions that might produce similar effects, and how this condition translates to a physical impairment.

In 2010, Minnesota adopted new administrative rules regarding the treatment of RSD claims.  The rules provide a specific method for determining a worker’s impairment rating due to RSD.   If a worker establishes that they have this condition, then different impairment ratings are determined for the peripheral nervous system, musculoskeletal system, skin and vascular system.  The ratings are then combined to produce a final rating based on whether the condition is mild, moderate, or severe; the final rating does not depend on the specific type of impairment suffered in the affected body part.  The final rating also cannot be more significant than a rating of an amputation of the affected body part, which may be seen as unwise by patients suffering from severe pain who feel amputation would have been preferable.

In short, an RSD/CRPS claim is possible under Minnesota law, but you’ll want to talk to your lawyer about how to establish not only that you have the condition but also the level of severity of the condition.

Chris Rosengren
Rosengren Kohlmeyer, Law Office