Sheets of connective tissue called fascia are located under the skin of the arms and legs. These wrap around groups of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels to create a unit called a compartment. When pressure builds up in these enclosed spaces, it is redirected into the compartment. When pressure reaches a certain point, it disrupts blood flow. Blood vessels may fail and tissue dies. Acute compartment syndrome (ACS) can affect the arms, hands, legs, feet, and buttocks.
Compartment Syndrome in Lower Leg
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Common causes include: Vein obstructions in the extremitiesHemorrhageComplication of surgery
Factors that may increase your chance of ACS include:
Pre-existing condition that could lead to fatal bleeding in cases of trauma, such as:
Having a bleeding disorder such as
hemophiliaParticipation in certain collision or contact sports such as footballBandages or casts that are worn too tightly or worn for too longRecent injury to the areaBurnsSwelling of tissues under the skin
ACS may cause: Severe painFeeling of tightness or fullness of musclesSwollen, pale, shiny skin over affected areaNumbness or tingling
Symptoms can develop within 30 minutes-2 hours. In other cases, it may take days.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids will be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Imaging tests to evaluate bodily structures may include: MRI scanCT scan
The pressure inside your compartments will be measured. This can be done with: Slit catheterTonometerNear-infrared spectroscopy
ACS is a medical emergency. Call for emergency medical services right away. Damage can result in serious injury or even death.
Surgery to relieve pressure, called fasciotomy, must be done right away to prevent permanent damage. The doctor makes a long cut into the fascia to open the envelope of tissue and relieve pressure.
ACS is difficult to prevent because there are many causes. But there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury, such as: Wearing proper equipment when playing sportsMaking sure that your medical records mention if you have used anticoagulants or if you have blood diseases
Being aware of the risk of ACS when you are wearing a bandage or
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http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00204. Updated October 2009. Accessed November 25, 2013.
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http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/cbc/test.htm. Updated June 25, 2012. Accessed October 24, 2012.
Comprehensive metabolic panel. American Association for Clinical Chemistry Lab Tests Online website. Available at:
http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/cmp/tab/glance. Updated September 6, 2012. Accessed November 25, 2013.
Erdos J, Dlaska C, et al. Acute compartment syndrome in children: a case series in 24 patients and review of the literature.
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Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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