What is compartment syndrome?

It is a known fact that athletes who exercise on hard surfaces often suffer from lower leg pain. Most assume that it is shin splints which involve the inflammation of the tissues that covers a large part of the two bones in the lower leg. On the other hand, doctors call lower leg pain as tibial pain syndrome which refers to several likely leg problems such as chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS).

Take note that CECS becomes a painful and dangerous condition when pressure inside the muscles accumulates to very high levels. As a result, this prevents nutrients and oxygen from reaching the nerve and muscle cells. The condition can be acute which is considered as a medical emergency and must be treated by a doctor right away. It can also be chronic which is not a medical emergency but still requires medical care.

Development of compartment syndrome

Chronic compartment syndrome starts when excessive training or swelling makes the muscles temporarily large in size for the compartments that they are contained in. These compartments are made out of inflexible membrane that does not expand. The pressure produced compresses the nerves and disrupts circulation, thus causing pain.

The symptoms of the condition only manifest when the individual is exercising. A good example in which compartment syndrome can occur is during a football game when a player sustains a heavy blow to the thigh from the helmet of the opponent or when a motorcycle crushes the leg of the rider.

Who are at risk?

compartment syndrome

The symptoms of compartment syndrome only manifest when the individual is exercising.

Always bear in mind that compartment syndrome commonly affects the legs of soccer players, runners and other athletes who put a lot of pressure on their leg muscles. The condition can even affect the muscles in the forearm and legs of individuals who engage in kayaking, cycling, canoeing, gymnastics and body building.

Symptoms of the acute form

  • Swelling
  • Acute muscle pain or cramping sensation
  • Bleeding inside the muscle compartment
  • Shiny, swollen skin over the compartment
  • Tingling, burning sensation in the muscle

Symptoms of the chronic form

  • Pain that manifest during exercise
  • Pain usually in the leg that diminishes during rest
  • Symptoms can manifest is both legs

What is the initial treatment?

It is important to consult a doctor in order to measure the pressure in the affected muscle or muscles. Understandably, this will help rule out other underlying conditions and provide the appropriate treatment.

For the non-surgical approach, you can apply ice for 15-20 minute. You can learn the proper way on how to apply ice on injuries and conditions by enrolling in a first aid course. You can also administer over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen or acetaminophen to minimize the inflammation and pain.

Instruct the individual to stop the activity that triggers the discomfort. Preventing the condition is not be possible, but being aware of the symptoms as well as getting early treatment can help prevent complications from arising.


For more information on this topic, visit: