The compartment syndrome

The compartment syndrome is a muscle and nerve disorder induced by exercise which causes pain, inflammation and, sometimes, the inability of the muscles of the legs or arms.

Anyone can develop this disorder, but is more common among young adults and athletes who do impact and repetitive activities.

Compartment syndrome is more common in the lower part of the leg and in the forearm. Although it can also appear on the hand, foot, thigh and upper arm.

Chronic compartment syndrome by exercise can respond to non-surgical treatment and to changes in activities.


The symptoms associated with chronic compartment syndrome by exercise They can include the following:

  • Pain, burning or cramping in a specific area of ​​the affected limb, which is usually the lower part of the leg.
  • Oppression in the affected extremity.
  • Numbness or tingling on the affected extremity.
  • Weakness of the affected limb.

The pain caused by chronic compartment syndrome by exercise This pattern usually follows:

  1. It starts regularly after a certain time of being exercising the affected limb.
  2. After progressively worse while exercising.
  3. When you stop exercising it becomes less intense or disappears completely after 15 minutes. Over time, you usually need a longer recovery period.

Stopping exercise, or performing only low-impact activities, can relieve symptoms, although, in general, it is a temporary relief. However, if you go back to the exercise that caused it, the symptoms reappear.

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The muscle groups are separated by thick layers of tissue called fascias. Within each layer there is a space called a compartment. This compartment includes muscle tissue, nerves and blood vessels. The fascia surrounds these structures and does not expand.

Any inflammation in a compartment will cause pressure increase in that area. This high pressure presses muscles, blood vessels and nerves.

If this pressure is high enough, the blood supply to the compartment will be blocked. This can cause a permanent injury to the muscles and nerves. If the pressure is prolonged for long periods of time, the muscle may die and the arm or leg will not work anymore.

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Causes of acute compartment syndrome

The acute compartment syndrome It can be caused by:

  • Trauma for an injury or surgery.
  • Bone fracture.
  • Plaster or bandage too tight.
  • Loss of blood supply.

Causes of chronic compartment syndrome

Prolonged or chronic compartment syndrome can be caused by repetitive activities such as running.
The pressure in a compartment only increases during the activity and decreases after it has ceased.

This condition, in general, is less limiting and does not lead to loss of function or limb. But nevertheless, Pain can limit activity and endurance.

The cause of chronic compartment syndrome by exercise is not completely clear. Some experts suggest that the way you move while exercising can influence the cause of chronic compartment syndrome by exercise.

Another cause may be that the muscles become excessively enlarged during exercise. You can also have a particularly inflexible fascia around the affected muscle compartment or have high pressure in the veins.

Risk factor's

There are some factors that increase the risk of developing chronic compartment syndrome by exercise, among which the following are included:

  • Age: Although chronic compartment syndrome by exercise can appear at any age, the disorder is more frequent among athletes under 30 years of both sexes.
  • The type of exercise: High-impact repetitive activity increases the risk of developing this disorder.
  • Excessive training: too intense or frequent exercise can also increase the risk of chronic compartment syndrome by exercise.

Chronic compartment syndrome by exercise is not a potentially serious disease. Also, usually, It does not produce lasting damage if you receive the proper treatment.

However, the pain, weakness and numbness associated with the compartment syndrome, can prevent you from continuing to exercise or practicing a sport with the same level of intensity.