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Chronic Compartment Syndrome

What Is Chronic Compartment Syndrome

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Updated April 16, 2014

Chronic compartment syndrome is an unusual condition that causes nerve compression and pain, most often in the front of the lower leg. It occurs due to excessive muscle swelling during activity that puts pressure on these blood vessels and nerves, and results in pain, swelling, weakness and possibly loss of muscle coordination.

Causes of Compartment Syndrome
In the arms and legs, a tough tissued called a fascia surrounds the different muscle groups. This fascia is a small compartment that holds the muscles, blood vessels and nerves. It has limited flexibility so if the muscle swells beyond the fascia's ability to stretch it puts pressure is felt on the nerves and blood vessels in the small space. If swelling continues blood flow to the muscles will decrease, nerves get compressed and it can cause numbness or tingling in the feet and lower legs.

The most accurate way to diagnose this condition is to insert a needle into the compartment immediately after the activity that causes pain and measuring the pressure. Pressure reading that measures greater than 45 mmHg indicates compartment syndrome.

Compartment syndrome occurs more often in runners. Compartment Syndrome is often misdiagnosed as shin splints or stress fractures.

Treatment
Chronic compartment syndrome may be treated conservatively first, icing the lower leg after exercise to reduce swelling.

In many cases compartment syndrome is treated with surgery to release the fascia and allow more room in the compartment.

To avoid compartment syndrome, it is helpful to wear the right footwear, and run on soft surfaces. Decreasing training time and intensity may also limit the chance of this syndrome.

As with all sports related injuries a visit to a physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is essential.

Source:

American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, Chronic Compartment Syndrome.

Blackman, Paul. A review of chronic exertional compartment syndrome in the lower leg. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Vol. 32, No. 3, Supplement, 2000.

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