Chronic exertional compartment syndrome – often known as simply compartment syndrome – is a muscle and nerve condition that is brought on by exercise and repetitive use. Compartment syndrome can develop in anyone, but it is most common in athletes who participate in activities that involve repetitive impact, such as running. It most often affects the lower legs, but can also develop in the arms.
Signs and syndromes associated with this condition include:
- Aching, burning, or cramping in the lower leg
- Foot drop (when the front part of the foot drops suddenly during walking, which can cause an unusual walking pattern)
- Numbness or tingling
- Pain that progressively worsens during physical activity involving the leg
- Swelling or bulging of the muscle
- Weakness in the lower leg
Your doctor will conduct a complete physical examination and collect your health history to help make a diagnosis.
Your doctor may order an imaging test – such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) — to get a closer look at your affected muscles.
You should use the RICE method, which includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation, while you’re at home.
Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication – or recommend an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen – to help reduce swelling and pain.
In some cases, your health care provider will prescribe rehabilitation therapy. Our physical therapists establish a unique plan of care that includes specific interventions for your condition and situation to help alleviate pain and improve mobility.
Many people with this condition need surgery to relieve pressure on the affected muscles, which eases the pain.
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