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Compartment Syndrome Overview

Compartment Syndrome is a painful condition that can happen after an injury to a muscle that makes the muscle swell. The compartment that holds the muscle can't stretch so the swollen muscle doesn't have any room to spread out. This causes a big increase in pressure in the muscle, which can stop nourishment from reaching the muscle and nerves. This can eventually lead to tissue death if it is not treated emergently. 

What kind of injuries can lead to Compartment Syndrome? Compartment syndrome
  • Compartment Syndrome can happen with any injury to the muscle or nearby tissue, such as fractures, crush injuries, or badly bruised muscles.
  • Compartment Syndrome can also happen if bandages or casts are too tight. 
What are the signs and symptoms of Compartment Syndrome?
  • The most important sign of Compartment Syndrome is PAIN out of proportion to the injury that is not controlled with pain meds, as well as tingling in the limb.
  • In children, other early signs include anxiety and restlessness.
  • Late symptoms of Compartment Syndrome include: decreased feeling in the limb, white look to the limb, and a lack of pulse. These symptoms are very dangerous and emergency care is needed.
What should I do if I'm worried my child has Compartment Syndrome?
  • Compartment Syndrome is a medical emergency.
  • If you are worried about your child's level of pain, please call your doctor who can help you decide what to do.
  • If you believe you child is suffering from Compartment Syndrome, please take them to the nearest emergency department right away.

What is the treatment?

  • Emergency surgery is needed to relieve the pressure in the muscle compartment.
  • Your surgeon will need to make a cut through the compartment. The cut will stay open until the swelling has gone down enough to allow closure. This open tissue is covered with a dressing to keep it clean until the wound is ready to be closed. Once the swelling has gone down, the skin around the muscle will be closed.
What problems could my child have after this injury?
  • Permanent damage to the muscles and nerves can result from Compartment Syndrome if it is not treated emergently. If the pressure lasts long enough the muscle can die, in which case amputation may be needed.
  • The swelling from Compartment Syndrome doesn't always go away completely. This may cause a slight difference in the size of the limb that suffered from Compartment Syndrome.

Contact us 

Call the orthopedic trauma nurse at (720) 777-0115 Monday through Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you need to reach orthopedics after 4 p.m. or on weekends, call the hospital operator at (720) 777-1234 and ask to speak to the orthopedic resident on call.