Chronic compartment syndrome usually occurs during or immediately after repetitive exercise, such as running or cycling. It usually passes within minutes of stopping the activity.
Chronic compartment syndrome tends to develop gradually during exercise and improves with rest.
The symptoms can include a cramping pain during exercise, most often in the legs, swelling or a visibly bulging muscle. Sometimes there is a tingling sensation and the area my feel cold or pale and in severe cases, difficulty moving the affected body part.
Chronic compartment syndrome is much less serious than acute compartment syndrome, but it’s a good idea to get your symptoms checked out and have the cause diagnosed.
Chronic compartment syndrome usually occurs in young people who do regular repetitive exercise, such as running or cycling.
A leading theory is that it’s caused by temporary swelling of the muscles during exercise affecting the blood supply to a whole group of muscles.
Chronic compartment syndrome is not usually dangerous, and can sometimes be relieved by stopping the exercise and switching to a less strenuous activity.
Physiotherapy, orthotics and anti-inflammatory medication may help.
Surgery will only be considered if your symptoms persist despite these measures. It is not a medical emergency and does not cause permanent damage
Acute compartment syndrome happens suddenly, usually after a fracture or severe injury. It is a medical emergency and requires urgent treatment as it can lead to permanent muscle damage if not treated quickly
Symptoms of acute compartment syndrome usually develop after an injury and get quickly worse.
Symptoms can include intense pain, especially when the muscle is stretched, which seems much worse than would normally be expected for the injury. Often there is tenderness in the affected area, tightness in the muscle, a tingling or burning sensation and in severe cases, numbness or weakness (these are signs of permanent damage).
Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency and ideally needs to be treated in hospital within a few hours to avoid permanent damage to the muscles or nerves.
Acute compartment syndrome can be caused by a broken bone or a crush injury – this is the most common cause, a plaster cast or tight bandage being applied to a limb before it has stopped swelling. Other caused include burns which can cause the skin to become scarred and tight, surgery to repair a damaged or blocked blood vessel (once blood is able to flow back into a muscle, it can lead to swelling) and in rare cases, it can occur without any obvious injury.
Acute compartment syndrome must be treated in hospital using a surgical procedure called an emergency fasciotomy.
The doctor or surgeon makes an incision to cut open your skin and fascia surrounding the muscles to immediately relieve the pressure inside the muscle compartment.