What is Compartment Syndrome?

Compartment Syndrome is a common lower leg condition that arises in athletes who play leg-intensive sports like that of running or soccer. Literally divided into four compartments, Compartment Syndrome refers to the trauma done to the fluid pressure within the leg. An increase in fluid pressure causes blood vessels and nerves within the lower leg to compress, causing pain and weakness in the leg, and even numbness in the foot.

There are two main causes of Compartment Syndrome: sudden trauma and exertion through exercise. A quick, forceful hit can qualify as sudden trauma, whereas the pounding of the foot against the ground while running qualifies as the right type of exertion through exercise. The type caused by sudden trauma is referred to as Acute Compartment Syndrome, which immediately causes swelling and possible a fracture in the lower leg bones. Severe swelling can effectively compress blood vessels and nerves. Acute CS is identifiable through the increased temperature of the lower leg, numbness of the top foot, and pain associated with any stretching of the muscles. Acute CS is a medical emergency, and neglecting this condition can lead to permanent nerve and muscle damage.

Exercise-induced Compartment Syndrome may not be noticed until after a workout, when an athlete begins to experience weakness in the ankle and foot. Larger leg muscles can lead to increased pressure in the leg compartments, thus increasing the risk of increased fluid pressure. In the event that CS is caused by exercise, it is likely to be a chronic condition that can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, rest, and ice. Regardless of the level of pain or frequency of occurrence, a physician should be consulted immediately to assess the seriousness of the condition and guide proper treatment.