Unless you have been unfortunate enough to suffer from this incredibly painful condition the chances are you may not know what it is.
Each muscle group in your arms and legs is contained in a space, or compartment, which is surrounded by layers of tough tissue called fasciae. These are there to keep the tissue in place so they are fairly rigid and do not expand easily.
Compartment syndrome occurs when muscle tissue, nerves and blood vessels, contained within the compartments, swell and expand whilst the fascia separating the compartments do not. The pressure within the compartment therefore grows, until it exceeds the pressure in the veins. This means the blood cannot flow properly and oxygen cannot get to the muscles or nerves. The pain is excruciating and if the pressure continues the affected tissue eventually dies from lack of oxygen.
In order to prevent muscle death from occurring immediate treatment is needed, usually in the form of a fasciotomy. This surgery involves cutting into the compartment and releasing the pressure and is generally very effective in treating the condition.
Unfortunately, without a quick diagnosis and treatment, long term damage can occur as the muscle tissue and blood vessels are starved of oxygen.
Acute compartment syndrome usually occurs after a serious injury whilst chronic compartment syndrome can be caused by heavy and prolonged exercise. This is one of the reasons it is more commonly seen in the military environment than in many other contexts.
Our military compensation claims often involve cases where the pain and early symptoms of chronic compartment syndrome are dismissed as being part of the demands of military life, and the sufferer is seen as being simply unfit. The result of that will be a delay in treatment of the condition and often medical discharge.