Chronic compartment syndrome is an uncommon, exercise-induced neuromuscular condition that is marked by swelling, pain and potential disability in the muscles of your legs or arms that are affected by the disorder. Chronic compartment syndrome is also characterized by your pain going away when you are resting.
Chronic compartment syndrome is known by other names. It is also referred to as chronic exertional compartment syndrome and exercise-induced compartment syndrome.
Chronic compartment syndrome usually takes place in experienced athletes who participate in sports that involve repetitive movements, such as biking, power walking, swimming or running. However, this condition is something that can occur in anyone.
Your legs and arms contain many compartments or groupings of nerves, blood vessels and muscles. A thick layer of connective tissue that is referred to as fascia encases each one of these compartments. Fascia supports these compartments. It is also what holds the tissues in place in each of these compartments. Fascia does not have the ability to stretch.
The pressure of your tissue that is inside of a compartment rises to an excessively high level when you are afflicted with chronic compartment syndrome. The problem is that the tissues, which are inside of that compartment are not able to expand adequately along with this increased pressure. This leads to your nerves and blood vessels becoming compressed and blood flow decreasing. This causes an inadequate amount of oxygen-rich blood (ischemia). This, in turn, results in damage to your muscles and nerves. This is a description of what chronic compartment syndrome is and does.
The reason why exercise causes this increased pressure in some people but not in others has not yet been determined. There are some theories that have been put forth as to why this may take place. Some of these are:
- Having high pressure in your veins
- How you move (biomechanics)
- Having inelastic or thick fascia
- Having increased muscle size.
Researchers believe that these things may have a part in leading to chronic compartment syndrome.
The hallmark sign or symptom of chronic compartment syndrome is pain that starts and gets increasingly worse whenever you engage in any form of exercise activity. This pain then begins to subside and go away when you finish the exercise activity and rest.
Symptoms of Chronic Compartment Syndrome
There are other signs and symptoms that are produced by chronic compartment syndrome. Some of these include:
- Tightness in your limb that is affected
- On occasions, there can be bulging or swelling that results from a muscle hernia
- In cases that are severe, you may experience foot drop if the nerves of your leg are also affected
- Tingling or numbness in you limb that is affected
- Cramping, aching or burning pain in your affected limb while you are exercising.
Chronic compartment syndrome takes place most of the time in your lower legs. Usually, this condition will affect both of your legs and not just one of them. However, chronic compartment syndrome may also involve and affect your hand, forearms, upper arms and thighs.