Chronic Compartment Syndrome

Definition

Chronic compartment syndrome (CCS) occurs when pressure builds up within the body’s muscle compartments. Compartments are made of sheets of connective tissue called fascia. These sheets are under the skin of the arms and legs. They wrap around groups of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. When pressure builds up in the compartments, it disrupts or blocks blood flow to the muscles and nerves.

Unlike acute compartment syndrome, CCS is not an emergency. However, you should see your doctor to get treatment.

Compartment Syndrome in Lower Leg
Compartment Syndrome
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

CCS is most commonly caused by intense exercise.

Risk Factors

CCS usually occurs in people less than 30 years old. Risk factors include:

  • Participating in endurance sports
  • Participate in sports that involve running or jumping
  • Anabolic steroid and creatine use
  • Eccentric exercise
  • Poor biomechanics in runners

Symptoms

CSS can affect the lower leg. However, it can also affect the arms, hands, feet, and buttocks. If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to CCS. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions.

  • Severe pain during exercise that typically goes away an hour after stopping
  • Pain on both sides of the body, such as in both legs
  • Fullness or tightness in the muscle
  • Tender, aching muscles
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness, tingling
  • In severe cases, foot drop—a foot slaps hard on the ground when running

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

  • You may have the pressure inside your compartments measured. This can be done with a slit catheter or tonometer.
  • Your doctor may ask you to perform range-of-motion stretches to assess the damage.
  • Your doctor may need to see pictures of your body structures. This can be done with:

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Surgery

Surgery, called fasciotomy, is the main treatment for CCS. This is done to open the compartment and relieve pressure. A long cut will be made into the fascia to open the tissue and relieve pressure.

It takes about three months to recover. You will have to do physical therapy.

Nonsurgical Approaches

If you are only had CCS for a short time or you decide not to have surgery, your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Stop the activity that is causing CCS and rest.
  • Change your training routine.
  • Do physical therapy.
  • Take anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants.
  • Custom made orthotics.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting CCS, take the following steps:

  • Avoid overexercising.
  • Change your training routine.
  • Avoid anabolic steroids and creatine

Revisions

All EBSCO Publishing proprietary, consumer health and medical information found on this site is accredited by URAC. URAC's Health Web Site Accreditation Program requires compliance with 53 rigorous standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audits. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at HLEditorialTeam@ebscohost.com.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Editorial Policy | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Support
Copyright © 2008 EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.

Time is critical during a heart attack. The longer it takes to get treated, the more badly damaged the heart will be. Get to the hospital quickly by calling 9-1-1. Do not attempt to drive yourself.