Compartment syndrome is a painful condition that results when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels. This prevents nourishment from reaching nerve and muscle cells. Muscle groups in the lower legs can be affected. Within these muscle groups are nerves and blood vessels. They are covered by tough membrane (fascia), which does not readily expand. The whole unit is called a compartment. If pressure within the compartment gets too high (for example, from too much swelling or bleeding after surgery or injury), it can damage blood vessels and nerve and muscle cells.
Types of compartment syndrome
Compartment syndrome can be either acute or chronic. Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency. Without treatment, it can lead to paralysis, loss of limb or death. Chronic compartment syndrome is not a medical emergency.
Acute compartment syndrome: It may take several hours for acute compartment syndrome to develop. Within the muscle compartment, swelling and/or bleeding creates pressure on capillaries and nerves. When the pressure in the compartment exceeds the blood pressure within the capillaries, the capillaries collapse. This disrupts the blood flow to muscle and nerve cells. Without a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients, nerve and muscle cells begin to die within hours. Unless the pressure is relieved quickly, this can cause permanent disability or death.
A traumatic injury, such as a fracture of one of the long bones in the body, can often trigger acute compartment syndrome. If the injured limb continues to swell after a rigid cast or tight dressing is applied, a compartment syndrome may result. In that case, the cast or dressing will have to be split or removed as the first step to help alleviate the problem. Other conditions that can bring on acute compartment syndrome include:
a badly bruised muscle – as when a motorcycle falls on the leg of the rider or a football player receives a blow to the thigh from another player’s helm
complication after surgery
blockage of circulation – such as from pressure over a blood vessel for too long while asleep
a crush injury – to the foot
anabolic steroid use. A major change in activity level – such as with long distance runners or new military recruits
caused by exercise – It can be a significant problem for an athlete. It gets better when you rest. It usually occurs in the leg. It is occasionally accompanied by numbness or difficulty in moving the foot. Symptoms dissipate quickly when activity stops. Compartment pressures may remain elevated for some time afterwards.
IF ACUTE COMPARTMENT SYNDROME IS SUSPECTED IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ASSISTANCE SHOULD BE SOUGHT.
IF CHRONIC COMPARTMENT SYNDROME IS SUSPECTED A DEFINITIVE DIAGNOSIS SHOULD BE ATTAINED BEFORE TRETMENT COMMENCES.