TN 15 (02-24)

DI 24580.025 Evaluation of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSDS/CPRS)--SSR 03- 2p

[NOTE 1: On January 18, 2017, SSA published final rules in the Federal Register titled “Revisions to Rules Regarding the Evaluation of Medical Evidence” (82 FR 5844) that revised how we consider medical evidence in disability claims and continuing disability reviews under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. These rules expanded the list of medical sources we recognize as acceptable medical sources (AMS). For claims filed on or after March 27, 2017, the AMS list also includes licensed advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) (for impairments within the licensed scope of practice), licensed physician assistants (PA) (for impairments within the licensed scope of practice), and licensed audiologists (for impairments of hearing loss, auditory processing disorders, and balance disorders within the licensed scope of practice only). Therefore, these medical sources can provide objective medical evidence (medical signs, laboratory findings, or both) to help establish a person has a medically determinable impairment. Accordingly, we plan to revise relevant Social Security Rulings and the POMS to conform to these final rules.]

[NOTE 2: Policy about assigning any weight, including controlling weight, applies only to claims with filing dates before March 27, 2017 - see DI 24503.050.]

[NOTE 3: On February 25, 2020, SSA published final rules "Removing Inability to Communicate in English as an Education Category" in the Federal Register (85 FR 10586). As a result, rule 201.17, which is referenced in Footnote 6, now refers to younger persons who are illiterate and does not refer to those unable to communicate in English.]

A. Background

On October 20, 2003, SSA published SSR 03-2p, “Titles II and XVI: Evaluating Cases Involving Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSDS/CRPS).” This Ruling is published in its entirety in DI 24580.025B.

B. Policy

SSR 03- 2p


Purpose: To explain the policies of the Social Security Administration for developing and evaluating title II and title XVI claims for disability on the basis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS), also frequently known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Type I (CRPS). These terms are synonymous and are used to describe a unique clinical syndrome that may develop following trauma and is characterized by complaints of severe pain and typically includes signs of autonomic dysfunction.

Citations (Authority): Sections 216(i), 223(d), 1614(a)(3) and 1614(a)(4) of the Social Security Act, as amended; Regulations No. 4, subpart P, sections 404.1505, 404.1508 - 404.1513, 404.1520, 404.1520a, 404.1521, 404.1523, 404.1526 - 404.1529, 404.1560 - 404.1569a; and 404.1593 - 404.1594 and Regulations No. 16, subpart I, sections 416.905, 416.906, 416.908 - 416.913, 416.920, 416.920a, 416.921, 416.923, 416.924, 416.924a - 416.924c, 416.926, 416.926a, 416.927 - 416.929, 416.960 -416.969a, 416.987, and 416.993 - 416.994a.

Introduction: RSDS/CRPS are terms used to describe a constellation of symptoms and signs that may occur following an injury to bone or soft tissue. The precipitating injury may be so minor that the person does not even recall sustaining an injury. Other potential precipitants suggested by the medical literature include surgical procedures, drug exposure, stroke with hemiplegia, and cervical spondylosis.

Definition of RSDS/CRPS

RSDS/CRPS is a chronic pain syndrome most often resulting from trauma to a single extremity. It can also result from diseases, surgery, or injury affecting other parts of the body. Even a minor injury can trigger RSDS/CRPS. The most common acute clinical manifestations include complaints of intense pain and findings indicative of autonomic dysfunction at the site of the precipitating trauma. Later, spontaneously occurring pain may be associated with abnormalities in skin, subcutaneous tissue, and bone. It is characteristic of this syndrome that the degree of pain reported is out of proportion to the severity of the injury sustained by the person. When left untreated, the signs and symptoms of the disorder may worsen over time.

Although the pathogenesis of this disorder (the precipitating mechanism(s) of the signs and symptoms characteristic of RSDS/CRPS) has not been defined, dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system has been strongly implicated.

The sympathetic nervous system regulates the body's involuntary physiological responses to stressful stimuli. Sympathetic stimulation results in physiological changes that prepare the body to respond to a stressful stimulus by “fight or flight.” The so-called “fight or flight” response is characterized by constriction of peripheral vasculature (blood vessels supplying skin, muscle and bone), increase in heart rate and sweating, dilatation of bronchial tubes, dilatation of pupils, increase in level of alertness, and constriction of sphincter musculature.

Abnormal sympathetic nervous system function may produce inappropriate or exaggerated neural signals that may be misinterpreted as pain. In addition, abnormal sympathethic stimulation may produce changes in blood vessels, skin, musculature and bone. Early recognition of the syndrome and prompt treatment, ideally within 3 months of the first symptoms, provides the greatest opportunity for effective recovery.

Typical Presentation of RSDS/CRPS

RSDS/CRPS patients typically report persistent, burning, aching or searing pain that is initially localized to the site of the injury. The involved area usually has increased sensitivity to touch. The degree of reported pain is often out of proportion to the severity of the precipitating injury. Without appropriate treatment, the pain and associated atrophic skin and bone changes may spread to involve an entire limb. Cases have been reported to progress and spread to other limbs, or to remote parts of the body.

Clinical studies have demonstrated that when treatment is delayed, the signs and symptoms may progress and spread, resulting in long-term and even permanent physical and psychological problems. Some investigators have found that the signs and symptoms of RSDS/CRPS persist longer than 6 months in 50 percent of cases, and may last for years in cases where treatment is not successful.

Diagnostic Criteria

A diagnosis of RSDS/CRPS requires the presence of complaints of persistent, severe pain that results in impaired mobility of the affected region. Pain is associated with one or more of the following signs in the affected region:

  • Swelling;

  • Autonomic instability--seen as changes in skin color or texture, changes in sweating (decreased or excessive sweating), skin temperature changes, or abnormal pilomotor erection (gooseflesh);

  • Abnormal hair or nail growth (growth can be either too slow or too fast);

  • Osteoporosis; or,

  • Involuntary movements.

Progression of the clinical disorder is marked by worsening of a previously identified finding, or the manifestation of additional abnormal changes in the skin, nails, muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones of the affected region. Clinical progression does not necessarily correlate with specific timeframes. Efficacy of treatment must be judged on the basis of the treatment's effect on the pain and whether or not progressive changes continue in the tissues of the affected region.

Reported pain at the site of the injury may be followed by complaints of muscle pain, joint stiffness, restricted mobility, or abnormal hair and nail growth in the affected region. Further, signs of autonomic instability (changes in the color or temperature of the skin and frequent appearance of goose bumps) may develop in the affected extremity or region. Osteoporosis may be noted by imaging techniques. Pain can further intensify, spread to involve other extremities, and muscle atrophy and contractures can develop. Persistent clinical progression resulting in muscle atrophy and contractures, or progression of pain to include other extremities or regions, in spite of appropriate diagnosis and treatment, hallmark a poor prognosis.

Treatment for RSDS/CRPS

Patient education and activity programs designed to increase limb mobility and promote use of the extremity during activities of daily living are considered the most important treatments for RSDS/CRPS. The medical literature has demonstrated that persons with extremities affected by RSDS/CRPS have a better prognosis when they receive an early diagnosis and mobility is immediately encouraged. In some patients, it is necessary to inject a long-acting anesthetic to block sympathetic activity and reduce pain to allow the person to increase the mobility of the affected region. Various analgesics, including narcotics and neurostimulators, may be used to minimize pain and promote the person's ability to tolerate greater mobility.

A mental evaluation may be requested by treating sources to determine if any undiagnosed psychiatric disease is present that could potentially contribute to a reduced pain tolerance. It is important to recognize that such evaluations are not based on concern that RSDS/CRPS findings are imaginary or etiologically linked to psychiatric disease. The behavioral and cognitive effects of the medications used to treat pain need to be thoroughly considered in the evaluation of this syndrome.

Other types of medications may also be used to reduce pain. Anti-inflammatory preparations, psychotropic medications (for example, antidepressants), certain antiepileptic drugs, muscle relaxants, and drugs that produce generalized reduction in sympathetic outflow may be tried in an effort to reduce the signs and symptoms associated with RSDS/CRPS and improve the mobility of the affected extremity or region.

Patients who are noted to have a good response to local sympathetic blocks may be considered candidates for surgical sympathectomy. This procedure permanently disrupts the sympathetic innervation of the affected area. It involves destroying a sympathetic ganglion and must be performed by a physician who is an expert in this technique. This procedure is not without risk of post-surgical complications.

This Ruling explains that RSDS/CRPS, when documented by appropriate medical signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, is a medically determinable impairment that can last for 12 or more months and be the basis for a finding of “disability.” It also provides guidance for the development and evaluation of claims for disability on the basis of RSDS/CRPS.

Policy Interpretation: RSDS/CRPS constitutes a medically determinable impairment when it is documented by appropriate medical signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, as discussed above. RSDS/CRPS may be the basis for a finding of “disability.” Disability may not be established on the basis of a person’s statement of symptoms alone.

1. Requirement for a Medically Determinable Impairment

Sections 216(i) and 1614(a)(3) of the Social Security Act (the Act) define “disability”[1] as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.[2] Sections 223(d)(3) and 1614(a)(3)(D) of the Act, and 20 CFR 404.1508 and 416.908, require that impairment result from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. The Act and regulations further require that impairment be established by medical evidence that consists of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, and not only by a person's statement of symptoms.

2. Establishing the Existence of a Medically Determinable Impairment

For purposes of Social Security disability evaluation, RSDS/CRPS can be established in the presence of persistent complaints of pain that are often out of proportion to the severity of any documented precipitant and one or more of the following clinically documented signs in the affected area:

  • Swelling;

  • Autonomic instability--seen as changes in skin color or texture, changes in sweating, changes in skin temperature, and abnormal pilomotor erection (gooseflesh);

  • Abnormal hair or nail growth;

  • Osteoporosis; or

  • Involuntary movements.

When longitudinal treatment records document persistent limiting pain in an area where one or more of these abnormal physical findings have been described at some point in time following the precipitating injury, disability adjudicators can reliably determine that RSDS/CRPS is present and constitutes a medically determinable impairment. It may be noted in the treatment records that these signs are not present continuously, or the signs may be present at one examination and not appear at another. Transient findings are characteristic of RSDS/CRPS, and do not influence a finding that a medically determinable impairment is present.

3. Documenting Medical Evidence of the Impairment

In cases involving RSDS/CRPS, the documentation of medical signs or laboratory findings at some point in time in the clinical record is critical in establishing the presence of a medically determinable impairment. In cases in which RSDS/CRPS is alleged, longitudinal clinical records reflecting ongoing medical evaluation and treatment from the person's medical sources, especially treating sources, are extremely helpful in documenting the presence of any medical signs, symptoms and laboratory findings. When the limitations and restrictions imposed by RSDS/CRPS are material to the outcome of claims adjudication, every reasonable effort should be made to secure all relevant available evidence to ensure appropriate and thorough evaluation.

Generally, evidence for the 12-month period preceding the month of application should be obtained, unless there is reason to believe that development of an earlier period is necessary, the alleged onset of disability is less than 12 months before the date of the application, or a fully favorable determination can be made with less evidence.

If the adjudicator finds that the evidence is inadequate to determine whether the person is disabled, he or she must first recontact the person’s treating or other medical source(s) to determine whether the additional information needed is readily available, in accordance with 20 CFR 404.1512 and 416.912. Only after the adjudicator determines that the information is not readily available from the person’s health care provider(s), or that the necessary information or clarification cannot be sought from the person’s health care provider(s), should the adjudicator proceed to arrange for a consultative examination(s) in accordance with 20 CFR 404.1519a and 416.919a. The type of consultative examination(s) purchased will depend on the nature of the person’s symptoms and the extent of the evidence already in the case record.

It should be noted that conflicting evidence in the medical record is not unusual in cases of RSDS due to the transitory nature of its objective findings and the complicated diagnostic process involved. Clarification of any such conflicts in the medical evidence should be sought first from the person’s treating or other medical sources.

We consider medical opinions from treating or other medical sources about the nature and severity of an person's impairment(s), however, we do not give these opinions controlling weight. We will consider the persuasiveness of medical opinions using the factors specified in our rules. Second, we will consider the supportability and consistency factors as the most important factors. (See DI 24503.025) [3]

4. Duration and Impairment Severity

The signs and symptoms of RSDS/CRPS may remain stable over time, improve, or worsen. Documentation should, whenever appropriate, include a longitudinal clinical record containing detailed medical observations, treatment, the person's response to treatment, complications of treatment, and a detailed description of how the impairment limits the person's ability to function and perform or sustain work activity over time.

Chronic pain and many of the medications prescribed to treat it may affect a person's ability to maintain attention and concentration, as well as adversely affect his or her cognition, mood, and behavior, and may even reduce motor reaction times. These factors can interfere with a person’s ability to sustain work activity over time, or preclude sustained work activity altogether. When evaluating duration and severity, as well as when evaluating RFC, the effects of chronic pain and the use of pain medications must be carefully considered.

When the alleged onset of disability secondary to RSDS/CRPS occurred less than 12 months before adjudication, the adjudicator must evaluate the available medical evidence and project the degree of impairment severity that is likely to exist at the end of 12 months.[4] Information about treatment and response to treatment, as well as any medical source opinions about the person's prognosis at the end of 12 months, are helpful in deciding whether the medically determinable impairment is expected to be of disabling severity for at least 12 consecutive months.

In those cases in which a person is found disabled based on RSDS/CRPS, but medical improvement is anticipated, the adjudicator should schedule an appropriate medical reexamination date consistent with the information indicating the likelihood of medical improvement.

5. Evaluation of the Claim

Claims in which the person alleges RSDS/CRPS are adjudicated using the sequential evaluation process, just as for any other impairment. Because finding that RSDS/CRPS is a medically determinable impairment requires the presence of chronic pain and at least one documented objective physical sign, the adjudicator can reliably find that pain is an expected symptom in this disorder. Other symptoms, including such things as extreme sensitivity to touch or pressure, or abnormal sensations of heat or cold, can also be associated with this disorder. Given that a variety of symptoms can be associated with RSDS/CRPS, and that it can be established as a medically determinable impairment, the adjudicator must evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the person's symptoms to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit the person's ability to do basic work activities. For this purpose, whenever the person's statements about the intensity, persistence, or functionally limiting effects of pain or other symptoms are not substantiated by objective medical evidence, the adjudicator must make a finding on the credibility of the person's statements based on a consideration of the entire case record. This includes the medical signs and laboratory findings, the person's own statements about the symptoms, any statements and other information provided by treating or examining medical sources and other persons about the symptoms and how they affect the person, and any other relevant evidence in the case record.

Symptoms alone cannot be the basis for establishing a medically determinable impairment. Once an underlying physical or mental impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce a person's symptoms is established as the MDI, we evaluate the intensity and persistence of those symptoms to determine the extent to which the symptoms limit the person's ability to perform work-related activities in adults, or to function independently, appropriately, and effectively in an age- appropriate manner for a child with a title XVI disability claim. See SSR 16-3p, "Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims."

Proceeding with the sequential evaluation process, when a person is found to have a severe impairment, the adjudicator must next consider whether the person's impairment is of the severity contemplated by the Listing of Impairments contained in appendix 1, subpart P of 20 CFR part 404. Since RSDS/CRPS is not a listed impairment, a person with RSDS/CRPS alone cannot be found to have an impairment that meets the requirements of a listed impairment; however, the specific findings in each case should be compared to any pertinent listing to determine whether medical equivalence may exist.[5] Psychological manifestations related to RSDS/CRPS should be evaluated under the mental listings and consideration should be given as to whether the person’s impairment(s) meets or equals the severity of a mental listing.

For those cases in which the person's impairment(s) does not meet or equal the severity of a listing, an assessment of RFC must be made, and adjudication must proceed to the fourth and, if necessary, the fifth step of the sequential evaluation process.



In cases involving RSDS/CRPS, Medical and non medical evidence from the person's treating sources, other medical sources and third party sources help establish a longitudinal picture of the person's functioning. Such evidence includes, but is not limited to:

· Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, or clergy;

· Statements from such persons as past employers, rehabilitation counselors, or teachers about the person's impairment(s) and the effects of the impairment(s) on the person's functioning in the work place, rehabilitation facility, or educational institution;

· Statements from medical sources with knowledge of the person, e.g., naturopaths, therapists, social workers, and chiropractors;

· Statements from other sources with knowledge of the person's ability to function in daily activities; and

· The person's own record (such as a diary, journal, or notes) of his or her own impairment(s) and its impact on function over time.


If the adjudicator determines that the person's impairment(s) precludes the performance of past relevant work (or if there was no past relevant work), a finding must be made about the person's ability to perform other work. The usual vocational considerations (see 20 CFR 404.1560-404.1569a and 416.960-416.969a) must be followed in determining the person's ability to perform other work. See also SSR 96-8p, “Titles II and XVI: Assessing Residual Functional Capacity in Initial Claims.”

Many persons with RSDS/CRPS are “younger persons” ages 18 through 49 (see 20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963). Age, education, and work experience are not usually considered to limit significantly the ability of persons under age 50 to make an adjustment to other work, including unskilled sedentary work.[6] However, a finding of “disabled” is not precluded for those persons under age 50 who do not meet all of the criteria of a specific rule and who do not have the ability to perform a full range of sedentary work. The conclusion about whether such persons are disabled will depend primarily on the nature and extent of their functional limitations or restrictions. Thus, if it is determined that a person is able to do less than the full range of sedentary work, refer to SSR 96-9p, “Titles II and XVI: Determining Capability to Do Other Work -- Implications of a Residual Functional Capacity for Less Than a Full Range of Sedentary Work.” As explained in that Ruling, whether the person will be able to make an adjustment to other work requires adjudicative judgment regarding factors such as the type and extent of the person's limitations or restrictions and the extent of the erosion of the occupational base for sedentary work.

Effective Date: This Ruling is effective on the date of its publication in the Federal Register.

Cross-References: NOTE: SSR 96-7p, “Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual's Statements” has been replaced with SSR 16-3p, “Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims.” Effective 3/28/16, we no longer use the term “credibility” when evaluating symptoms. SSR 96-8p, “Titles II and XVI: Assessing Residual Functional Capacity in Initial Claims,” and SSR 96-9p, “Titles II and XVI: Determining Capability to Do Other Work--Implications of a Residual Functional Capacity for Less Than a Full Range of Sedentary Work.”



.     Except for statutory blindness.


. For persons under age 18 claiming benefits under title XVI, disability will be established if the person is suffering from a medically determinable physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.” See section 1614(a)(3)(C) of the Act and 20 CFR 416.906. However, for clarity, the following discussions refer only to claims of persons claiming disability benefits under title II and persons age 18 or older claiming disability benefits under title XVI. It should be understood that references in this Ruling to the ability to do substantial gainful activity, “RFC,” and other terms and rules that are applicable only to title II disability claims and title XVI disability claims of persons age 18 or older are also intended to refer to appropriate terms and rules applicable in determining disability for persons under age 18 under title XVI.


. Because medical opinions relate to functional abilities and limitations, consider medical opinions for determining severity at step 2, at step 3, and for determining an adult’s residual functional capacity (RFC).


. To meet the statutory requirement for “disability,” a person must have been unable to engage in any SGA by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. Thus, the existence of an impairment for 12 continuous months is not controlling; rather, it is the existence of a disabling impairment, which has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months that meets the duration requirement of the Act.


. In evaluating title XVI claims for disability benefits for persons under age 18, consideration must be given to the possibility of finding functional equivalence based on the person's impairment and related symptoms and their effects on whether the person's impairment(s) results in marked and severe functional limitations.


. However, “younger persons” age 45-49 who are illiterate, whose past work was unskilled, or who had no past relevant work), must be found disabled under rule 201.17 in Table No. 1 of appendix 2, of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines in 20 CFR part 404.




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DI 24580.025 - Evaluation of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSDS/CPRS)--SSR 03- 2p - 02/26/2024
Batch run: 02/26/2024