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Diagnosing Exertional Compartment Syndrome

What is Compartment Pressure Testing?

Compartment pressure testing is a method used to diagnose Exertional Compartment Syndrome, a condition that causes pain in the shin bone after periods of activity or exercise.

What is Exertional Compartment Syndrome?

Exertional Compartment Syndrome is caused when fascia (tissue that surrounds muscles) is too tight around the muscles.

Muscles are surrounded by a tissue known as fascia. During periods of exercise, an increase in blood flow causes muscle size to slightly increase. In most people, the fascia is loose enough to accommodate for this change in size, but in those suffering from Exertional Compartment Syndrome, the fascia begins to constrict the muscles and interrupt blood flow.

People with the syndrome may experience pain, tingling or numbness in the affected leg. They may also experience a feeling of tightness in the front of the leg.

How is Exertional Compartment Syndrome diagnosed?

The syndrome is diagnosed is made taking measurements of the pressure within the muscles of the leg, once during a period of rest and another after a period of activity. In most people, the change in pressure will be small, however if Exertional Compartment Syndrome is present, the change will be more dramatic.

What should I expect during the Compartment Pressure Testing procedure?

When you go into the office for the Compartment Pressure Testing, the area being tested will be numbed with anesthetic. Once the area is numbed, a cannula will be inserted into the area to measure the pressure. You may then be asked to perform a short activity that utilizes the muscle group, and then the pressure will be measured again.

How is Exertional Compartment Syndrome treated?

The first course of treatment may be to rest. If symptoms persist even after prolonged rest, surgery may be indicated. Surgery will involve a procedure called a fasciotomy, in which an in incision is made in the fascia to release the tight tissue from the muscle. As with all surgeries, there are risks involved with a fasciotomy. In this instance, there is a small risk of nerve damage that can result in permanent numbness on the top of the foot.

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