What is compartment syndrome?

Compartment syndrome is an increase in pressure inside a muscle compartment, which can limit blood flow and lead to permanent damage of your muscles and nerves. The muscles, together with nerves and blood vessels, are contained in spaces known as compartments that are separated by thick tissues known as fascia. The fascia surrounding the compartments cannot expand, so if there is swelling in one of the structures within a compartment, increased pressure and potential damage to the structures within the compartment occurs.

Muscle Problems Spotlight

Compartment syndrome usually occurs as a result of a crush injury or other trauma like a long bone fracture (such as a car accident or if your arm or leg is run over by a car). Compartment syndrome can also be caused by surgery, a severe bone fracture, overuse of a muscle group in extreme endurance athletics, or by a venomous snake or insect bite.

Compartment syndrome may occur in the arms, hands, feet, and legs. Compartment syndrome is a serious condition and usually requires surgery. Though treatable, compartment syndrome may sometimes result in permanent damage to your muscles and nerves or may even result in amputation.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have sustained an injury to an extremity that is extremely painful and does not improve with pain-relieving medications, and if the skin over and around the injury looks very tight.


What are the symptoms of compartment syndrome?

Symptoms of compartment syndrome include severe pain in the affected region (especially with movement) that does not get any better with pain-relieving medications or with icing. When this symptom follows an injury, extensive use of a muscle, or a venomous bite, compartment syndrome is likely.

Common symptoms of compartment syndrome

You may experience symptoms of compar... Read more about compartment syndromesymptoms


What causes compartment syndrome?

When you are injured, you often notice swelling in the skin and tissue near the injury. Similarly, your muscles and tissues deep inside your arms and legs can also swell after an injury. Muscle tissue is separated by a tough and relatively inflexible material called fascia, so when your muscles swell, there is little room for them to expand. The result of this constricted swelling is an increas... Read more about compartment syndromecauses


How is compartment syndrome treated?

If compartment syndrome is suspected, your health care provider will assess the pressure inside the affected region using a special probe. If compartment syndrome is diagnosed, surgery is generally required. Surgeons will open the affected region and make incisions in the fascia surrounding the swollen muscles. The wounds will be left open and covered with sterile bandages for several days unti... Read more about compartment syndrometreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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