Causes and Symptoms of Compartment Syndrome

Compartment syndrome is a serious medical condition that occurs when excessive pressure builds up from within the body. This is usually due to conditions such as bleeding or swelling following an injury, causing blood to gush to the injury site. This unusually large pressure will constrict blood vessels and decrease blood flow, depriving cells from getting adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients. Compartment syndrome is classified into acute and chronic cases. In acute cases, it is an emergency and is often caused by injury requiring immediate medical treatment to prevent permanent damages. In chronic cases however, it is usually caused by repetitive motions and is not an emergency.

Causes

Acute compartment syndrome

Acute compartment syndrome is usually due to a severe injury such as a high impact car accident or sports injury. It is also the most common form of compartment syndrome and will develop rapidly over hours.

Acute compartment syndrome can also develop after injuries including:

  • Fractures
  • Bruised muscle
  • Crush injuries
  • Prolonged compression of a limb after prolonged period of unconsciousness
  • Surgery to blood vessels of an arm or leg
  • Blood clot(s) in a blood vessel in an arm or leg
  • Anabolic steroid usage
  • Constricting bandages
  • Extremely vigorous exercises


Chronic compartment syndrome

Chronic compartment syndrome develops over a longer period of time and is usually caused by exercises such as running, swimming or cycling. It usually involves the lower body core muscles such as the gluteus maximus muscles, thigh and calf muscles. It may cause cramps during exercising but will go away once the activity is stopped.

 

Symptoms

Acute compartment syndrome

The symptoms for acute compartment syndrome is usually pain when the affected muscle is stretched. Usually, the pain will be much more intense that pain from the injury and a burning sensation could be felt. The affected muscle will able be tight and stiff and at times, numbness can be felt.


Chronic compartment syndrome

Symptoms of chronic compartment syndrome include aching or cramping in the affected muscle within a half an hour of the exercise starting. The symptoms will usually go away with rest and muscle functions will remain normal. There might also be visible muscle bulging and moving the foot might be difficult.

Compartment syndrome is a medical condition that cannot be prevented. However, early diagnosis and treatment will help to prevent many of the complications and patients must be aware of some of the most common symptoms.

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