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J Athl Train. 1997 Jul;32(3):248-50.

Acute atraumatic compartment syndrome in an athlete: a case report.

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Mississippi Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center, 1325 East Fortification Street, Jackson, MS 39236.



To present the case of a college football player with acute, atraumatic, exercise-induced compartment syndrome in the leg.


Acute, atraumatic, exercise-induced compartment syndrome is an infrequently reported cause of leg pain in the athlete. If left untreated, acute compartment syndrome can cause muscle necrosis.


Chronic exertional compartment syndrome, medial tibial syndrome, stress fracture.


Treatment consists of compartment fasciotomy.


This previously healthy, but unconditioned, athlete developed severe anterolateral left leg pain after two days of fall practice in which he was unable to run a mile in 7.5 minutes. Physical examination by the team physician revealed acute compartment syndrome, and an emergency anterolateral compartment fasciotomy was performed. Second-look d├ębridement performed 48 hours later revealed no significant change in the necrotic appearance of the anterior compartment soft tissue. Therefore, the dead muscle was completely d├ębrided, and a free-flap latissumus dorsi graft was used for coverage of the wound. With recovery, strength returned to normal in the lateral compartment but remained 0/5 in the anterior compartment. The patient had persistent sensory loss in the distributions of the superficial and deep peroneal nerves.


Although much less common than the more frequent causes of leg pain (ie, chronic exertional compartment syndrome, medial tibial syndrome, stress fracture), acute compartment syndrome is potentially more devastating. When the increased intracompartmental pressure within a closed tissue space exceeds capillary perfusion pressure, tissue perfusion is decreased, the soft tissue becomes ischemic, and cells die. The most important clinical diagnostic signs of compartment syndrome are pain with passive stretching of the compartment and pain out of proportion to the results of the physical examination.


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