Burning Nights CRPS Support is a UK national charity dedicated to raising awareness of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

How To Use Desensitisation Techniques


This article talks about desensitisation, what desensitisation techniques are and how to use them for your CRPS.

Do you want to learn how to use Desensitisation Techniques for your CRPS? If so, read on..

Using desensitisation techniques as part of your persistent pain or CRPS management routine is something that doctors, pain specialists and physios like you to try, especially in the early part of your diagnosis and CRPS treatment.

Desensitisation is also something that doesn’t involve medication so it is non-invasive and is an alternative therapy. You can also use these techniques as a self management tool.

Desensitisation Techniques for CRPS/RSD
Desensitisation Techniques for CRPS/RSD

What Is Desensitisation?

According to Physio-Pedia in their article on desensitisation, they describe it as:

“Desensitization is a treatment technique used to modify how sensitive an area is to particular stimuli. This technique is utilized to decrease, or normalize, the body’s response to particular sensations. ”  

Aims of Desensitisation

In this article it goes through how to use desensitisation as part of your chronic pain management regime. It is a technique that it is used to help and reduce your hypersensitivity (allodynia) that you are feeling from the Complex Regional Pain Syndrome / Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.

The idea is that it gives you regular, short lengths of time, slow increase of stimulating your nerves in your CRPS affected area. You use the technique every day but only short lengths of time in any one session, so you don’t need to use desensitisation for hours on end.

In a CRPS research study Lewis, J.S. et al (2011) it stated that:

“Patients are highly protective of the painful region and hypervigilant to any potential threats to their affected limb.” 

It is because CRPS sufferers don’t use and touch their affected limbs that doctors and researchers believe that by doing the desensitisation exercises it will reduce the pain that is felt. (Harden 2001)

Lewis, J.S. et al (2007) said of other research that had been done concerning CRPS sufferers not touching their limbs that:

“In spite of pain in the CRPS limb, clinical observations show patients pay little attention to, and fail to care for, their affected limb as if it were not part of their body. Literature describes this phenomenon in terms of neurological neglect-like symptoms. ”  

In the same research study Lewis, J.S. et al. (2007) what they actually believe is that:

“…body perception disturbance is a more appropriate term than ‘neglect-like’ symptoms to describe this phenomenon.”  

The RCP Guidelines for CRPS (2018) give some good advice as to how you should do the desensitisation techniques and to start off with they recommend that:

“Where possible, feel the sensation on a part of your body not affected by CRPS first, and remember how that normal sensation felt when then applying to the affected area.”
  • Gather together some different textured materials, something warm and cool,  e.g. cotton, silk handkerchief, soft brush, wool, velvet, feathers
Closeup of purple silk fabric on white background
  • Now get yourself in a comfortable position
  • Begin by stroking an unaffected area or even your other limb or extremity with one of the soft pieces of material you have e.g. velvet or piece of silk
  • Remember the feeling you felt with that material on your unaffected area
  • Now.. Begin to slowly stroke further towards your CRPS / RSD affected area
  • As you are stroking towards your CRPS area keep remembering how it felt on your unaffected area where you didn’t feel pain but you something that didn’t hurt instead it was pleasant
  • Keep thinking about your unaffected area while touching towards your CRPS area and go further towards still thinking pleasant feelings
  • You will feel pain most likely and not comfortable at first and this is perfectly normal to feel that but do stick with it
  • After a few minutes stop and then go onto a rougher textured material and begin the whole process again starting with your unaffected area
  • The aim of this is to hopefully in the future reduce your hypersensitivity in your CRPS area
  • Once you start to move towards your CRPS affected area after time

Why not have a look at the YouTube video that actually show you how to do the Desensitisation exercises for CRPS?

These desensitisation techniques won’t stop your hypersensitivity overnight! It is a technique that you need to keep at until you can begin to tolerate different materials. Desensitisation techniques won’t work for everybody as we are all different with different pain thresholds, signs and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS/RSD).

Hopefully you will now understand not only about desensitisation techniques for your CRPS but also how to use them as part of your self management care routine. What materials do you use in your desensitisation routine? Why not share our article on desensitisation techniques on social media using the social media buttons below or make a comment?!

Cited Resources

Last Updated: 28/01/2020

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About the Author
As the Founder of Burning Nights CRPS Support, I want to help all those affected by this devastating condition which includes those living with CRPS, their relatives, partners, carers and friends. I'm also barrister, advocate & have lived with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) since 2003. I am also a bilateral (double) above knee amputee due to aggressive symptoms of CRPS. Please help spread awareness of this debilitating and life-changing condition - CRPS. We need your support!

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