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Acute compartment syndrome: A complication of serious injuries

You've probably driven the same route numerous times. You know the road like the back of your hand and remember making it home safely countless times. When the other vehicle slammed into yours, it came as a surprise.

You suffered serious injuries. Perhaps you suffered a serious bone fracture, crush injuries or a severely bruised muscle in an arm or leg. At some point, you begin experiencing severe pain in the muscles around the injury. Upon examination, your doctor tells you that you suffer from acute compartment syndrome and may need surgery to avoid further or permanent damage to the area.

Understanding acute compartment syndrome

Your arms and legs contain groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves. A fascia, which is a tough membrane, surrounds them as a form of protection. The fascia does not expand or stretch to accommodate swelling. The pain you feel comes from a buildup of pressure in the compartment of muscles where your injury occurred. Because the blood flow to the area becomes compromised, it suffers oxygen and nourishment deprivation.

Without quick and proper treatment, you could suffer permanent damage. If you feel any of the following after a serious injury, you may want to get to a doctor as quickly as possible:

  • Your skin may burn or tingle.
  • Your muscle may feel full or tight.
  • Your pain may be worse than from the initial injury.
  • Your pain may increase when you stretch the muscle.

If you wait too long to seek medical attention, you could end up with paralysis or numbness, which indicates permanent damage to the tissue.

How doctors treat acute compartment syndrome

The only treatment option involves a surgical procedure called a fasciotomy. The surgeon makes an incision in the fascia to release the pressure. Depending on the circumstances, doctors may not close the wound right away in order to allow the swelling to subside. Having the surgery does not mean that you won't still suffer permanent damage.

So, what happens next?

Even if you eventually recover from the initial injuries and acute compartment syndrome with few lasting effects, you more than likely went through a painful and extensive recovery time. You probably missed a significant amount of work and incurred substantial medical costs. In addition to dealing with your physical and emotional injuries, you also have financial issues with which to deal. You may be able to pursue compensation for your losses from the person who caused your injuries.

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