Compartment Syndrome

  • Introduction

  • Conservative Treatment

  • Surgical Treatment

Groups of muscles, nerves and blood vessels located in the arms and legs are classified as compartments. When a large amount of pressure builds within the compartments, swelling occurs. The swelling prevents nourishment and oxygen from reaching the compartment thus creating a decrease in blood flow and injuring the muscles, nerves and blood vessels in the compartments. This condition is known as compartment syndrome and can be either acute or chronic.

Acute compartment syndrome can be caused by a fracture, a badly bruised muscle, crush injuries, steroid use, or constricting bandages. However, chronic compartment syndrome is more common in athletes and is caused by repetition in motion.

Symptoms of compartment syndrome include aching, burning or cramping in the lower leg which causes the leg to become tight or numb and a weakness in the muscles that cause foot drop.

The course of action for compartment syndrome depends on which level of compartment syndrome is experienced. Acute compartment syndrome is only addressed with surgical intervention however, anti-inflammatory medications can be taken for chronic compartment syndrome. Also recommended for chronic compartment syndrome is cessation of activity creating the discomfort or changing surfaces.

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Surgery is the only form of treatment for acute compartment syndrome. A small incision is made to cut away the fascia, a thin layer of tissue covering the swelling compartment. This procedure is called fasciotomy. Surgical intervention for chronic compartment syndrome surgical treatment is similar to the procedure used during fasciotomy, however it is often elective surgery as opposed to emergency.

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