Compartment syndrome is a condition that causes pain once pressure inside the muscle accumulates to dangerous levels. This ensuing pressure can cause a drop in the blood flow which prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching the muscle and nerve cells.
- Acute – this is a medical emergency that is usually caused by a severe injury. If not treated, it can result to lasting damage to the muscles.
- Chronic – it is often brought about by exertion during sports.
Close look on how compartment syndrome develops
Compartment syndrome develops if bleeding or swelling occurs inside a compartment. Since the fascia does not stretch, it causes the buildup of pressure on the nerves, capillaries and muscles within the compartment. The flow of blood to the nerve and muscle cells are disrupted. The inadequate supply of nutrients and oxygen can damage the muscle and nerve cells.
In an acute case, lasting disability and tissue death can occur if the pressure is not relieved right away. This does not usually occur in chronic cases.
The condition typically occurs in the front compartment of the calf. It can also occur in other compartments in the leg as well as in the hands, arms, feet and buttocks.
Possible causes of compartment syndrome
This usually develops after sustaining a severe injury such as fractures or vehicular accidents. It is rare for it to develop after a minor injury. Conditions that can cause an acute case include the following:
- Severely bruised muscles
- Crushing injuries
- Reestablished blood flow after the circulation was blocked
- Constricting or overly tight bandages
- Use of anabolic steroids
The swelling and pain from chronic compartment syndrome is triggered by exercise. Those who engage in activities that have repetitive movements such as biking, running or swimming are likely to develop the condition. Take note that this is usually relieved by stopping the activity and not considered dangerous.
What are the indications?
The characteristic sign of the acute type is pain, particularly when the muscle inside the compartment is stretched along with the following:
- Pain is intense than what is expected from the injury. If the affected muscles are stretched or used, it intensifies the pain.
- Tingling or burning sensations in the skin
- Muscle feels full or tight
- Numbness or paralysis are late signs which indicates permanent tissue damage
A chronic case can cause pain or cramps during physical activity. The pain usually settles if the activity is stopped. In most cases, it often occurs in the legs. Other symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty moving the affected foot
- Evident bulging of the muscles