All muscles in the body are enclosed by soft tissue (fascia) to form separate compartments. Each muscle compartment contains nerves and blood vessels that contribute to its individual function.
If blood flow increases for any reason, the muscle will swell. If the muscle swells enough, it will press against the limits of its compartment to interfere with neighbouring compartments. This increased pressure can limit blood flow to the nerves and muscles, which cause pain and compromise muscle function. It’s a condition known as chronic compartment syndrome.
Acute vs. Chronic Compartment Syndrome
Acute compartment syndrome occurs after a severe injury, such as a crush, fracture, or a badly bruised muscle,wherein blood leaks into the fascia, increasing pressure within the compartment. This is a medical emergency that should be treated immediately through decompression surgery to open the fascia. Any delay in pressure relief can lead to permanent nerve and muscle damage.
In contrast, chronic compartment syndrome is generally caused by exercise. Prolonged repetitive activity leads to heavier blood flow and increased muscle volume. The enlarged muscle presses against the walls of its compartment, reducing blood supply. This leads to muscle pain and cramps, which can be relieved by resting, adjusting the exercise routine, and physiotherapy.
Causes of Chronic Compartment Syndrome
87% of cases are diagnosed in athletes or sportspersons, 69% of which are professional or amateur runners.
Chronic compartment syndrome can be caused by:
- Repetitive movement of the limbs
- Extended periods of high-intensity workouts
- Training on artificial turf or concrete track
Symptoms include pins and needles, cramps, and muscle pain. These symptoms will not be resolved until the exercise is stopped. The pain will disappear gradually as the muscle and internal pressure return to their resting state (8 to 10 mmHg). This is not a condition that will disappear when you push through the pain; instead, it will get worse and may cause permanent damage to your nerves and muscles.
If you are experiencing persistent compartment syndrome symptoms whenever you exercise, you need a proper diagnosis and treatment by a professional. For this reason, you must schedule an appointment with an experienced physiotherapist as soon as possible.
Treating Chronic Compartment Syndrome with Physiotherapy
Compartment syndrome can be treated and managed through physiotherapy. Treatment always begins with a thorough and detailed consultation with your physiotherapist. This includes details about your health history, general lifestyle, and exercise habits. A physical examination will follow, including diagnostic tests and exercises that will show your fitness baseline.
Once you are officially diagnosed with chronic compartment syndrome, you will be given a thorough treatment plan that will reduce symptoms and help your muscles recover. Further physiotherapy treatment sessions may include:
Functional manual therapy – This will help increase tissue mobility and joint movement. Your muscle and fascia will be stretched to improve flexibility and allow reduce pain. Through balanced muscle contraction, all compartments will develop lesser risk of compartment syndrome.
Strength exercises – Incorrect technique and footwork may lead to compartment syndrome. Your physiotherapist will guide you through exercise drills and assess your overall body movement.
Chronic compartment syndrome is very common in runners and other athletes that regularly go through high-intensity training sessions. This condition can be treated by cross-training and several sessions with an experienced physiotherapist. Adjustments in muscle flexibility and movement can effectively treat chronic compartment syndrome.
Are you looking for affordable online physiotherapy consultations in Bondi, Sydney? Invigor Health is the best choice for you. We can radically improve how your body functions through proven treatment protocols. Schedule a consultation with our experts today!