Compartment syndrome is characterized by development of pressure within a muscle compartment beyond limits. Such a process causes the blood flow to decrease giving rise to debilitating conditions.
Severe pain is the classical symptom of compartment syndrome. The pain usually does not respond to over the counter medications. In addition, in severe cases, compartment syndrome may present with the following signs and symptoms :
In majority of the cases, physical examination of the signs and symptoms would be enough to diagnose the condition. No kind of laboratory workup is indicated. In physical examination, the pressure in the compartment is directly measured with the help of needle that is attached to pressuremeter. The pressure in the compartment is measured before and after the activity .
In case of acute compartment syndrome with associated trauma physical examination along with the following analysis becomes necessary:
For acute compartment syndrome, surgery is the only available option to treat the condition. In this method, long incisions are made in the affected area to release the pressure. The wounds are usually covered with a sterile bandage and are closed in a second surgical procedure .
In case of any bandage or cast that is causing the condition, it should be loosened to relieve the pressure. Medications such as opioids and NSAIDs can be administered for providing relief from pain . It is advised that side effects of the medications should be considered before prescribing to patients.
Prognosis of the condition largely depends on when the condition was diagnosed and when was the treatment initiated. In a research study, it has been reported that complete restoration of limb function could be attained when fasciotomy was carried out within 6 hours of injury . When the treatment is not initiated within 12 to 24 hours of compression, then permanent damage to the nerve and muscles can occur.
Development of excessive pressure inside a muscle compartment causes compartment syndrome. There are several factors that lead to increase in the pressure; these include: Fractures, injuries, infections, development of muscular hypertrophy, prolonged limb compression and burns causing development of acute compartment syndrome.
Chronic compartment syndrome is a common phenomenon for athletes and occurs due to repetitive movements or activities such as running, exercising, cycling and playing sports. All these can cause pressure inside the muscle to increase causing pain and tightness in the affected areas .
The exact prevalence of compartment syndrome is not known. It has been reported that patients who have suffered vascular injury are more prone to develop compartment syndrome. It has been estimated that about 19% patients with vascular injury required fasciotomy to treat acute compartment syndrome . In a study of military personnel of United States, it has been reported that about 4100 cases of chronic form of compartment syndrome occurred between the years 2006 to 2011 .
Muscles of the arms and legs are separated by thick layers of tissue known as fascia. Each individual layer of fascia consists of a confined space known as the compartment. This compartment contains muscle nerves, blood vessels and tissues. All these are closely covered by the fascia. It is necessary to understand that there is no way through which fascia can expand.
As a result when pressure builds up inside a compartment, the muscles, nerves and blood vessels are compressed. When the pressure increases beyond limits, the blood flow is restricted causing permanent damage to the nerves and muscles. In such cases, if treatment is not initiated on time then the muscles unable to bear any more pressure undergo atrophy. As a result amputation of the affected limb would be the only available alternative .
So far no guidelines have been given to prevent the development of compartment syndrome. However, with early diagnosis and prompt initiation of treatment the onset of complications can certainly be prevented.
Decrease in the blood flow due to pressure buildup in a muscle compartment limits the supply of oxygen and nutrition to the nerves and the muscle cells. Timely initiation of treatment is necessary; failure to do can cause incapacitating complications to set in. Compartment syndrome can be acute and chronic in nature. Acute form of compartment syndrome is a medical emergency requiring prompt treatment. On the other hand, the chronic form is less severe and is also known as exertional compartment syndrome .
Compartment syndrome is described as excessive increase in the pressure within a muscle compartment. The consequent buildup of pressure in the compartment can call for restricted blood flow which in turn can cause muscles and nerve damage. Compartment syndrome can be acute or chronic in nature.
The cause of pressure buildup within the muscles can be attributed to trauma resulting from injury or accidents. Chronic compartment syndrome is more common among athletes and occurs due to repetitive activities and carrying out heavy exercises. In such cases, the pressure increases in the compartment only during such activities. The body parts most commonly affected by this condition include the forearm and the lower leg. However, in some instances it can also affect the thigh, upper arm, hand and foot.
One of the most classical symptoms of compartment syndrome includes development of severe pain in the affected area that gets worse and does not fade away with medications. In addition, individuals also experience feeling of numbness, burning or tingling sensation in the affected area. It also becomes difficult to remove the part of the limb that is affected.
In most cases physical examination is enough to diagnose the condition. However, many a times analyzing the creatine phosphokinase levels and evaluating kidney functioning is also required.
Surgery is often the method of choice to treat compartment syndrome. It is employed to prevent permanent damage to the affected area. Pain relieving medications are also administered depending on the patient’s profile.