An introduction to compartment syndrome

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Individuals who perform workout routines on hard surfaces often end up with lower leg pain and simply assumed as other conditions such as shin splints. In most cases, lower leg pain might be due to various conditions including compartment syndrome.

Compartment syndrome can become a painful and potentially life-threatening condition once the pressure inside the muscles builds up to high levels. This prevents the essential nutrients and oxygen from reaching the muscle and nerve cells. The condition can be acute which indicates a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. In some cases, it can be chronic which is not a medical emergency but still requires proper care.

How compartment syndrome develops

Compartment syndrome
When it comes to chronic compartment syndrome, it develops once excessive training or swelling makes the muscles temporarily large for the compartments where they are contained.

When it comes to chronic compartment syndrome, it develops once excessive training or swelling makes the muscles temporarily large for the compartments where they are contained.

The compartments are comprised of inelastic or rigid membrane that does not have the capacity to expand. The resulting pressure compresses the nerves and limits circulation, thus resulting to pain that can vary. The symptoms only manifest when the individual engages in any form of physical activity. Compartment syndrome is likely to occur when a football player endures a strong hit to the thigh.

Who is at risk?

Always bear in mind that compartment syndrome is most likely to occur in the legs of individuals who engage in running, soccer or other sports or activities that put excess demands on the leg muscles. The condition can affect the muscles in the legs and forearms of those who engage in swimming, kayaking as well as body builders and gymnasts.

Signs and symptoms of acute compartment syndrome

  • Swelling
  • Acute muscle pain or cramps
  • Bleeding within the affected muscle compartment
  • Glossy, engorged skin over the compartment
  • Feeling or tightness, burning or tingling in the muscle

The pressure should be relieved as soon as possible by a healthcare professional. If not dealt with, there is possibility for permanent disability or even death.

Indications of chronic compartment syndrome

  • Pain develops during exercise
  • Symptoms are evident in both legs
  • Pain subsides with rest

Initial treatment

A doctor should be consulted to measure the pressure in the muscle or muscle group. This is used to rule out other underlying conditions as well as determine the suitable treatment. Remember that the non-surgical treatment options might not be effective.

  • You can apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes during the period before consulting a doctor.
  • Provide the individual with pain medications such as aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the pain and inflammation.
  • The affected leg should not be wrapped since it will only increase the pressure and the individual should not continue any type of activity if pain is present.


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