When pressure within a muscle builds to dangerous levels, compartment syndrome occurs. That muscle pressure can harm blood flow, preventing nourishment and oxygen from adequately reaching the nerve and muscle cells.
Compartment syndrome can be acute or chronic, with the former being a medical emergency. Acute compartment syndrome is typically caused by a severe injury, and without treatment it can result in permanent muscle damage.
Chronic compartment syndrome on the other hand, is normally a result of athletic exertion and is not a medical emergency.
Acute compartment syndrome typically develops following a severe injury like a car accident or broken bone. Conditions that can lead to acute compartment syndrome include:
- Severe muscle bruising
- Reestablishing blood flow after circulation being blocked
- Crushing injuries
- Anabolic steroid use
- Bandages or casts that are tight or constricting
Chronic compartment syndrome is the pain and swelling brought on by exercise. Athletes that participate in activities that require repetitive motions like running, biking, or swimming are more likely to develop exertional compartment syndrome. It is typically relieved by discontinuing the current activity, and it is not typically dangerous.
Being that acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency, there is no effective nonsurgical treatment. After determining that you are suffering from acute compartment syndrome, your doctor will make an incision to cut open the skin and muscle fascia covering the affected area. This procedure is known as a fasciotomy. In cases where the swelling is severe to the point that the incision cannot be closed immediately, it is surgically repaired when the swelling subsides – sometimes with a skin graft.
For chronic compartment syndrome, physical therapy, orthotics, and anti-inflammatory medicines are sometimes suggested. Symptoms typically subside if the activity that causes the swelling is avoided. Some athletes have symptoms that are worse when exercising on certain surfaces, and switching to a different one sometimes helps. For severe cases of chronic compartment syndrome, an incision similar to one that is made for acute compartment syndrome is made to open the fascia and allow the muscles more room to swell.
If you are experiencing compartment syndrome, either acute or chronic, request an appointment with the orthopaedic specialists at Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine online or by calling 904-825-0540.