What is compartment syndrome?

Compartment syndrome can be acute or chronic. Physiotherapists are more likely to treat chronic compartment syndrome as acute compartment syndrome is considered a medical emergency.

Each group of muscles in your body, along with the blood vessels and nerves that run close by are contained in layers of tissue called fascia. The fascia keeps the tissue in place and the tissues can’t expand or stretch easily so if bleeding or swelling occurs, pressure within the compartment can increase easily.

What causes compartment syndrome?

Compartment syndrome is caused by swelling or bleeding within a muscle ‘compartment’ which is an enclosed bundle of muscle.

Acute compartment syndrome can occur after a crush injury or fracture. This is a medical emergency because the high pressure can cause permanent nerve and muscle damage.

What are the symptoms of compartment syndrome?

There are different symptoms of compartment syndrome depending on whether you have acute compartment syndrome or chronic compartment syndrome.

Symptoms of acute compartment syndrome:

  • Intense pain, particularly when the muscle affected is stretched
  • Tingling or burning skin
  • Tight muscles

Chronic compartment syndrome:

  • Cramping pain when exercising, most often in the leg
  • Difficulty moving your foot
  • Muscle bulking

Chronic compartment syndrome is much less serious than acute compartment syndrome and may come on slowly and is often after a long period of exercise doing the same motion such as running or cycling.

How is compartment syndrome diagnosed?

Acute compartment syndrome will be treated and diagnosed in hospital, normally because you are in the hospital emergency department after an accident.

Chronic compartment syndrome can be diagnosed by a physiotherapist following an in-depth assessment.

What treatment can Farrell Physiotherapy offer for compartment syndrome?

There are several different treatment options for compartment syndrome. Following assessment, your physiotherapist will create a tailor made treatment plan for you, based on your lifestyle and goals.

Your physiotherapist will choose the most appropriate physiotherapy treatment methods for you, based on your symptoms and how you respond to different treatment methods. Usually a combination of treatment methods are used.

Treatment can include:

  • Mobilisation
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Electrotherapy
  • PNF stretches
  • Orthotic use
  • Taping for arch support
  • Biomechanic correction
  • Footwear advice
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Activity modification advice
  • Weight loss advice

Most patients with compartment syndrome recover well following proper rehabilitation. Recovery can be a few weeks to a few months. Some people may not improve and further investigations may be required such as scans.

Benefit of physiotherapy for compartment syndrome?

There are many benefits of physiotherapy for compartment syndrome and it is best to seek physiotherapy as quickly as possible in order for you to recover in the shortest space of time and prevent re-injury.The particular benefits you feel from physiotherapy will be based on your original symptoms and treatment goals.

Physiotherapy assists with:

  • Decreased pain
  • Increased function
  • Increased flexibility
  • Increased strength

If you would like to book an assessment or enquire further, please call 01245 615 051 or e-mail: infofarrellphysiotherapy@gmail.com.