The Risks and Effects of Acute Compartment Syndrome
Muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in the extremities are held together inside of a “compartment” known as the fascia, a type of connective tissue. When pressure inside of a muscle becomes too high, it can compromise and decrease blood flow, which in turn deprives the muscle of essential oxygen and nutrients. This is a painful and potentially serious condition known as compartment syndrome. There are two types of compartment syndrome, known as acute and chronic. Acute compartment syndrome usually occurs as the result of a traumatic injury, and requires emergency medical treatment in order to avoid potentially permanent muscle and tissue damage.
Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) typically results from prolonged athletic activity and exertion, and is less urgent than acute compartment syndrome. Usually occurring in the legs, CECS results in pain and cramping during exercise that subsides once the activity is stopped. The most common symptoms are numbness, and difficulty moving the foot of the affected leg, as well as visible muscle swelling.
Dr. Steven Meier, who specializes in treatment for compartment syndrome in Los Angeles at Meier Orthopedic Sports Medicine, advises patients to be aware of the following signs that they may be suffering from compartment syndrome.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of Acute Compartment Syndrome
Pain is the main symptom of compartment syndrome. Because the pain associated with acute compartment syndrome is intermittent (sporadic), it is necessary to use a treadmill to induce a flare-up in order to measure the compartment pressure and obtain an accurate diagnosis at Meier Orthopedic Sports Medicine.
The most common cause of acute compartment syndrome is typically from a severe traumatic injury, such as a car accident or a broken bone. While rare, compartment syndrome can sometimes also develop after a relatively minor injury.
Other conditions that can potentially cause acute compartment syndrome include:
- A bruised muscle resulting from traumatic impact
- Blood rush after poor/blocked circulation. When blood flow to a vessel is restricted for a prolonged period of time, the sudden rush of blood to the vessel once it becomes unblocked can sometimes lead to compartment syndrome. The most common instances are after a tourniquet has been applied after an injury or during surgery, or when a person is immobile or lies in the same position for a long period of time and then suddenly gets up and moves, as with waking up from sleep.
- Blood vessels can also potentially become blocked during sleep. This can occur when a person is suffering from a neurological disorder, or as a result of severe intoxication with alcohol or drugs that impairs the ability to move naturally and regularly during sleep.
- Crush injuries
- Anabolic steroids. Steroid use is believed to pose a risk for developing compartment syndrome in some users.
- Tight/constricting bandages and dressings. Casts and bandages that are too tight can potentially cause a tourniquet effect that can lead to compartment syndrome.
Symptoms of Acute Compartment Syndrome
The most common symptoms of acute compartment syndrome include:
- Pain that appears to be excessive for the type of injury, and that becomes worse when the muscle is stretched or moved.
- Parasthesia – A tingling or burning sensation in the skin
- Numbness and paralysis – This is often a sign of advanced compartment syndrome, and can signal permanent damage and potential tissue death.
Are you experiencing signs of compartment syndrome or have questions about prevention and treatment options? Contact Meier Orthopedic Sports Medicine in Los Angeles today at 310.736.2793 or make an appointment online.
Next, read more about Understanding the Many Complications of Broken Bones