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  • Emma B

Compartment syndrome: everything you need to know

Compartment syndrome is a painful and serious condition that can occur in any of the four compartments of the limb. There are two types of compartment syndrome: acute and chronic. Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Chronic compartment syndrome is a less serious condition that can be treated with conservative measures.

If you think you may have compartment syndrome, it is important to see a doctor immediately.



What is acute compartment syndrome?


Acute compartment syndrome is a condition that occurs when there is increased pressure in a muscle compartment. This pressure can cause the muscle and nerve tissue to die. Acute compartment syndrome most often occurs in the leg or arm.

If you suspect that you or someone else has acute compartment syndrome, it is important to seek medical help immediately. If untreated, acute compartment syndrome can lead to loss of limb or even death.


Symptoms of acute compartment syndrome include:

- Pain that is out of proportion to the injury

- Numbness or tingling

- Paralysis

- Paleness or coldness of the affected limb

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to preventing long-term complications from acute compartment syndrome.


The causes for this syndrome can be caused by:

- Broken bone or a crush injury

- A plaster cast or tight bandage being applied to a limb before it has stopped swelling

- Burns, which cause the skin to become scarred or tight

- Surgery to repair a damaged or blocked blood vessel


Treatment for this syndrome must be treated by a medical professional for an emergency fasciotomy. This when the doctor or surgeon makes an incision to open the skin and fascia surrounding the muscles to immediately relieve the pressure inside. We offer this service at MSK doctors.


What is Chronic compartment syndrome?


Chronic compartment syndrome is a condition that occurs when there is increased pressure in a muscle compartment. This can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected area. Chronic compartment syndrome is most common in the legs, but it can also occur in the arms and other parts of the body.


There are two main types of chronic compartment syndrome: exertional and rest. Exertional compartment syndrome occurs during or after physical activity. Resting compartment syndrome occurs when the pressure in the muscle compartment is increased even at rest.

Chronic compartment syndrome is diagnosed through a combination of physical examination and special tests, such as MRI or CT scan. Treatment typically involves a combination of rest, physical therapy, and medication. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure in the muscle compartment.


Treatment for this type of syndrome can be through physiotherapy work, orthotics and NSAIDs. If your symptoms persist, you can be put on a waiting list for surgery, but it is not a medical emergency.


Compartment syndrome is a painful condition caused by increased pressure in the muscles. The condition is treated by releasing the pressure and relieving the pain. If you think you are suffering from compartment syndrome, call or email MSK doctors and we can help.

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