Compartment syndrome is the compression of nerves and blood vessels within an enclosed space. This leads to muscle and nerve damage and problems with blood flow.
Overview, Causes, & 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, that includes the muscle tissue, nerves, and blood vessels. Fascia surrounds these structures much like insulation covers wires.
Fascia do not expand, so any swelling in a compartment will lead to increasing pressure in that area, which will push on the muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. If this pressure is high enough, blood flow to the compartment will be blocked, which can lead to permanent injury to the muscle and nerves. If the pressure lasts long enough, the limb may die and need to be amputated.
Swelling leading to compartment syndrome is associated with trauma such as from a car accident or crush injury, or surgery. Compartment syndrome may also occur if you wear a bandage or a cast that is too tight.
Long-term (chronic) compartment syndrome can be caused by repetitive activities, such as running, which increase the pressure in a compartment only during that activity.
Compartment syndrome is most common in the lower leg and forearm, although it can also occur in the hand, foot, thigh, and upper arm.
Pictures & Images
The median nerve travels through a compartment called the carpal tunnel in the wrist. The ligaments that transverse the nerve are not very flexible. If there is any swelling within the wrist compartment excessive pressure can be put on structures such as the blood vessels and the median nerve. Excessive pressure can constrict bloodflow and cause nerve damage. The symptoms from the compression causes pain, loss of sensation, and decreased function in the hand.
Review Date : 7/29/2008
Reviewed By : Thomas N. Joseph, MD, Private Practice specializing in Orthopaedics, subspecialty Foot and Ankle, Camden Bone & Joint, Camden, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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