What Is Compartment Syndrome?

What Is Compartment Syndrome?The human body is actually made of different compartments. For example, you have different compartments of muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and ligaments in your arms, legs, hands, feet, stomach, and more. Therefore, when you are involved in an accident, your compartments may become severely injured, crushed, or damaged, resulting in compartment syndrome.

A compartment syndrome diagnosis means that your muscles in a specific compartment have experienced intense pressure. Sometimes, the amount of pressure can reach life-threatening levels. Although every person’s case and condition is unique and different, it is not uncommon for compartment syndrome to prevent oxygen and blood from reaching certain nerves, muscles, and vessels within the injured area.

Car accidents, slip and fall accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, truck accidents, and construction accidents can all lead to compartment syndrome. If your doctor tells you that you have acute compartment syndrome, your condition could be life-threatening.

Does compartment syndrome occur often?

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “the incidence of acute compartment syndrome is estimated to be 7.3 per 100,000 in males and 0.7 per 100,000 in females.”  Although compartment syndrome does not occur frequently, it affects more men than women. The NCBI also states that men under 35 years of age are the most common group to experience compartment syndrome, and up to 10 percent of these cases arise from tibial shaft fractures.

What causes compartment syndrome?

When you are involved in an accident, you may experience significant swelling or bleeding in one of your body’s compartments that compresses the muscles, nerves, and vessels in the injured area. Compartment syndrome can be caused by various types of injuries, such as:

  • Broken and fractured bones
  • Serious bruising
  • Crush injuries
  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Blood clots

Compartment syndrome can also occur when bandages or casts are too tight and constrict your muscles. Therefore, if the doctor places a bandage or cast on you and you believe it does not fit properly, you should let them know immediately.

Are there different forms of compartment syndrome?

There are two different forms of compartment syndrome, which are:

  1. Acute compartment syndrome: Acute compartment syndrome is an extremely painful, life-threatening condition. It could cause permanent damage to the muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels and if not treated promptly, may result in death.
  2. Chronic compartment syndrome: Although chronic compartment syndrome is not typically considered a life-threatening emergency, it can still cause severe pain lasting several months or years. If you are diagnosed with chronic compartment syndrome, proper rest, relaxation, and physical therapy can reduce the symptoms and lead to recovery.

How do I know whether I have compartment syndrome?

The symptoms of compartment syndrome include:

  • Aches and pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Muscle weakness
  • Paleness of the skin
  • Inability to move a certain limb or body part

If you think you have compartment syndrome, seek medical attention immediately. If the swelling or pain becomes worse, visit your local emergency room as soon as possible. The swelling caused by compartment syndrome can cut off oxygen to the muscles, leading to tissue necrosis. Tissue death can be a painful experience in and of itself, and the treatment may include surgical debridement or even amputation, depending on how far it spreads.

Methods that a Harrisburg, PA doctor will use to diagnose compartment syndrome

There are several methods used to diagnose compartment syndrome, including:

  • X-rays: Your physician may take X-ray images of the affected area to locate any fractured or broken bones that could be causing the swelling or pain.
  • Physical examination: Your doctor will also do a physical examination to assess your symptoms, locate where the pain is coming from and what may be causing it, and potentially rule out compartment syndrome or other similar conditions.
  • Compartment pressure test: A compartment pressure test determines how much pressure your muscles, nerves, and vessels are sustaining. This type of test requires the doctor to place a needle in the painful or swollen compartment to determine how much pressure you are experiencing. In addition, your doctor will likely need to place a needle into another area of your body to get an accurate comparison of the pressure differences.

How do you treat compartment syndrome?

The treatment depends on the type of condition you have. Acute compartment syndrome is treated with surgery. The surgeon cuts through the skin and the fascia – “the band of thin, fibrous connective tissue that wraps around and supports every structure in your body” – and into the muscle to alleviate the pressure. This procedure is called a fasciotomy. Per the Cleveland Clinic, once the pressure drops, the surgeon will stitch the patient back up; however, this may take time, and some folks may end up needing skin grafts. All surgery comes with risks, and those risks can increase if the wound must remain open, or if a graft is needed.

People with chronic compartment syndrome usually treat with medications, though surgery may be required if the drugs don’t work.

If you were recently diagnosed with compartment syndrome due to another individual’s negligent behavior or actions, reach out to a Harrisburg personal injury lawyer from KBG Injury Law immediately. Our attorneys have over 40 years of legal experience fighting for our clients’ rights, and, no matter what type of accident caused your injuries, we are here to help you find resolution. Call us or complete our contact form to learn about how our firm can help you obtain maximum compensation for your losses. We have offices across Pennsylvania, including York, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Hanover, and Gettysburg.