Chronic Compartment Syndrome
(Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome; Compartment Syndrome, Chronic; Compartment Syndrome, Exercise-induced; Compartment Syndrome, Recurrent; Exercise-induced Compartment Syndrome; Recurrent Compartment Syndrome; Exercise Myopathy)
Chronic compartment syndrome (CCS) occurs when pressure builds up within the body’s muscle compartments. Compartments are made of sheets of connective tissue called fascia. These sheets are under the skin of the arms and legs. They wrap around groups of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. When pressure builds up in the compartments, it disrupts or blocks blood flow to the muscles and nerves.
Unlike acute compartment syndrome, CCS is not an emergency. However, you should see your doctor to get treatment.
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CCS is most commonly caused by intense exercise.
CCS usually occurs in people less than 30 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of CCS include:
- Participating in endurance sports
- Participate in sports that involve running or jumping
- Anabolic steroid and creatine use
- Eccentric exercise
- Poor biomechanics in runners
CCS can affect the lower leg. However, it can also affect the arms, hands, feet, and buttocks. Symptoms may include:
- Severe pain during exercise that typically goes away an hour after stopping
- Pain on both sides of the body, such as in both legs
- Fullness or tightness in the muscle
- Tender, aching muscles
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness, tingling
- In severe cases, foot drop—a foot slaps hard on the ground when running
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Surgery, called fasciotomy, is the main treatment for CCS. This is done to open the compartment and relieve pressure. A long cut will be made into the fascia to open the tissue and relieve pressure.
It can take up to 3 months to recover. After surgery, you will need physical therapy.
If you are only had CCS for a short time or you decide not to have surgery, your doctor may recommend that you:
- Stop the activity that is causing CCS and rest.
- Change your training routine.
- Do physical therapy.
- Take anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants.
- Custom made orthotics.
To help reduce your chance of CCS:
- Avoid overexercising
- Change your training routine
- Avoid anabolic steroids and creatine
National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
Acute compartment syndrome—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T909320/Acute-compartment-syndrome-emergency-management. Accessed November 10, 2017.
Chronic compartment syndrome. American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/chroniccompartment.html. Accessed January 31, 2013.
Compartment syndrome. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aapsm.org/chroniccompartment.html. Updated October 2009. Accessed January 31, 2013.
Tucker AK. Chronic exertional compartment syndrome of the leg. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2010;3(1-4):32-37.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 12/20/2014