Definition of Compartment syndrome
Compartment syndrome is a serious condition that involves increased pressure in a muscle compartment. It can lead to muscle and nerve damage and problems with blood flow.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Thick layers of tissue, called fascia, separate groups of muscles in the arms and legs from each other. Inside each layer of fascia is a confined space, called a compartment. The compartment includes the muscle tissue, nerves, and blood vessels. Fascia surrounds these structures, similar to the way in which insulation covers wires.
The hallmark symptom of compartment syndrome is severe pain that does not go away when you take pain medicine or raise the affected area. In more severe cases, symptoms may include:
Signs and tests
A physical exam will reveal:
Surgery is needed. Long surgical cuts are made through the fascia to relieve the pressure. The wounds can be left open (covered with a sterile dressing) and closed during a second surgery, usually 48 – 72 hours later. Skin grafts may be needed to close the wound.
With prompt diagnosis and treatment, the outlook is excellent for recovery of the muscles and nerves inside the compartment. However, the overall prognosis will be determined by the injury leading to the syndrome.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Unviersity of Washington School of Medicine; and C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 7/28/2010