Symptoms of compartment syndrome are varied but typically relate to the six “P’s”: pain, pressure, pain with stretch, paresis, paresthesia, and pulses present. The pain is usually throbbing and a deep ache out of proportion to the injury. Pressure is usually one of the first signs with swelling at the area of injury. Pain with stretch occurs when one of the muscles in the compartment try to move. Paresis is a muscle weakness due to the pressure of the compartment. Paresthesia ia a sensory deficit or numbness due to the pressure placed on the nerve in the compartment. Pulses are usually still present since the compartment pressure is usually not enough to compress a major artery. Not all of the above symptoms will be present in each individual, and some maybe actually opposite depending on specific situations. A compartment syndrome can be a medical emergency and you should not delay diagnosis or treatment.
Causes of a compartment syndrome are usually due to a traumatic event where the muscle is injured and becomes edematous (swollen). These types of injuries are more often of a blunt nature. A compartment syndrome may not occur at the exact time of the trauma, but even hours or days following the event. A compartment syndrome can also exist following an athletic event with the thought that the muscle becomes ischemic (absent blood supply) for a period of time and causing a swelling.
Diagnosis of a compartment syndrome is usually made using intracompartmental pressures. There are a variety of techniques to measure the compartmental pressure, but most include sticking a needle into the muscular area to determine the pressure of the space.