Compartment Syndrome: Overview
If you have had pain after athletic exertion or have been injured, you might be at risk of developing compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome is a very painful condition that arises when there is pressure within the muscle that can build to toxic or dangerous levels. The pressure, within the muscle, can cut off the blood flow. Without blood, the muscle and tissue do not receive oxygen or nourishment and damage could be caused to the muscle and nerve cells. The severity of the injury is the measuring stick in which the doctor can proclaim the injury as either chronic or acute. If the doctor label’s your injury as acute, then consider it as a medical emergency. If the doctor tells you it is chronic, it is usually deemed a sports injury and will go away with time and treatment is not needed (AAOS, 2009).
Compartment Syndrome: Symptoms
Pain is the number one symptom of compartment syndrome. If you have an injury, either from an accident or stress over time, and there is chronic or intense pain in the muscle of the injured limb, then you might be a candidate for the syndrome. If the tissue appears to be tense and the skin around the swelling is shiny, then you might want to visit your doctor. You may want to check the range of motion that the limb or joint can complete, and if it is limited, then it is time to have it checked out (Medicinenet, 2010).
Compartment Syndrome: Treatment
If compartment syndrome is diagnosed treatment may require a splint or cast. Ice treatments, treatment involving ice bags on the swelling, may also be recommended either separately or apart of the splint of cast. The limb should also be elevated to at least the level of the heart. This allows the flow of the blood to be pushed into the injured area at full pressure allowing nutrients and oxygen to get into the wounded tissue. If your doctor determines it is an acute compartment syndrome, surgery may be needed. The surgery is called fasciotomy. Here the surgeon will fillet the swollen tissue open to allow the inflamed tissue to breath. This allows for more blood flow and faster healing. Hyperbaric therapy may be recommended if the swelling and pain does not go down after surgery.
Compartment Syndrome: Complications
There are several complications that accompany compartment syndrome if the treatment does not work or does now work completely. One of the most common complications is scaring. The tissue that is infected will die or heal over leaving scaring within the tissue. This could lead to infection, permanent nerve damage, and the worst case scenario, amputation. Each case of complication has several factors that accompany them: the degree of the injury and the time it takes to heal. The faster blood is flowing to the tissue and the tissue gains mobility, the fewer complications will occur. Remember to check with your doctor for precise medical advice if you have the symptoms of compartment syndrome for proper diagnosis and treatment.
AAOS. (2009) Compartment syndrome. American Academy for Orthopedic Surgeons. Retrieved on September 2, 2010 from http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00204
Medicinenet. (2010). Compartment syndrome. Retrieved on September 2, 2010 from http://www.medicinenet.com/compartment_syndrome/page4.htm