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Am J Surg. 2009 Mar;197(3):371-5. doi: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2008.11.013.

Anatomic location of penetrating lower-extremity trauma predicts compartment syndrome development.

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Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, Department of Surgery, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36695, USA.



Compartment syndrome of the lower extremity can be a difficult diagnosis to make with serious consequences if diagnosis and intervention is delayed. Identifying patients who are more likely to develop this syndrome can help prevent the associated complications. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether the anatomic location of the penetrating lower-extremity injuries can predict development of compartment syndrome.


A retrospective chart review was performed of all patients admitted for a minimum of 23 hours to the University of South Alabama trauma center for penetrating lower-extremity trauma during the 8-year period from July 1998 through June 2006. Patients were entered in the study if wound trajectory was confined to the lower extremity between the inguinal ligament and the ankle. Injuries were categorized as above knee (AK) or below knee (BK), and whether the injury was in the proximal or distal half of the extremity segment. Clinical examination or compartmental pressures were used to diagnose BK compartment syndrome.


A total of 321 patients sustained 393 lower-extremity injuries during the study period, of which 255 (65%) were AK and 138 (35%) were BK. Thirty-one (8%) lower extremities developed BK compartment syndrome with 29 (94%) secondary to penetrating injuries of the BK segment. All BK injuries that developed compartment syndrome were located in the proximal half of the BK segment. Eighteen (7%) AK injuries underwent BK 4-compartment fasciotomy, 16 (6%) of which were prophylactic after surgical intervention for AK vascular injury. Two patients (1%) developed postoperative BK compartment syndrome after superficial femoral vein ligation. All AK injuries that underwent fasciotomy sustained vascular injuries requiring surgical intervention. No BK compartment syndromes occurred in any patients with expectantly managed AK or distal BK injuries.


Injuries to the proximal half of the BK segment are the most common cause for the development of compartment syndrome from penetrating injuries of the lower extremity. Development of BK compartment syndrome because of penetrating AK injury is rare without an associated surgically significant vascular injury. Observational admission for compartment syndrome development in patients with penetrating injury to the AK segment or distal BK segment is unnecessary.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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