UK researchers are to test whether a simple course of vitamin C could reduce the effects of an extreme pain syndrome that develops in 30 per cent of people who fracture their wrists.
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy or RSD, is a poorly understood condition that causes crippling pain, with the affected limb often swelling up and becoming hot and stiff. In severe cases it is incurable, but it also occurs in a more transient form in patients who have had a fracture or undergone orthopaedic surgery. Painkillers and physiotherapy usually fail to control the pain.
A team at Bristol Royal Infirmary's university department of orthopaedics are to recruit up to 300 patients from the Bristol area to test the effectiveness of vitamin C in preventing CRPS in wrist fracture patients. Half of the patients, mainly women with osteoporosis aged over 50, will be given vitamin C over a six-week period. The others will be given a placebo.
"CRPS is usually considered to be a condition of the nervous system, but there is increasing evidence that it happens as a result of an inflammatory reaction," explained orthopaedic surgeon Andrew McBride.
"Previous research has also suggested that the inflammatory process may be sparked off by free radicals so countering these effects with the antioxidant vitamin C could be a very simple but effective way of helping people who suffer from this horribly painful condition," he added.
A pilot study by the researchers showed that only 8 per cent of patients given vitamin C developed CRPS, compared to 22 per cent who did not take the supplement. They are hoping to confirm the potential of vitamin C as a safe, simple and cheap solution to the debilitating musculoskeletal problem.
The research has been supported by the Arthritis Research Campaign. Results are expected at the end of next year.