The intense feeling of aching pain in a limb during exertion is a common complaint. When the pain is easily replicated with progressively less exertion, a compartment syndrome should be considered.
A syndrome is a group of symptoms. In chronic exertional compartment syndrome the pain may be burning or cramping in nature along with tightness, weakness or numbness in the affected limb. These symptoms typically clear within 30 minutes of rest.
Although most common in the lower extremities and associated with running, it can also affect the upper extremities.
Muscles provide the engine behind motion. They are fueled by a steady supply of blood and stimulated into action by nerves. When injured, a muscle will swell and unless the connective tissue that provides an envelope around a muscle expands, pressure will build up within the muscle. The increased pressure can cause nerve damage and muscle breakdown.
Compartment syndrome is most commonly seen in athletes under the age of 30 who participate in sports that involve repetitive impact. Athletes who use supplements like anabolic steroids or creatine are especially vulnerable.
Adequate warm up, hydration and resting if pain becomes intense are all ways of avoiding this condition. Varying workouts and the mechanics involved in a particular sport will decrease the repetitive trauma and allow for muscular recovery.
“Symptoms of chronic exertional compartment syndrome may be relieved by decreasing the intensity and impact of training,” said Dr. Giselle Aerni, a sports medicine physician at the University of Connecticut and team physician for the Connecticut Sun. “If symptoms persist, surgery may be helpful to release the fascia surrounding the muscles to allow more room for swelling,” said Aerni.
If surgery is necessary, it should be carried out by a physician who treats athletes and can help guide the athlete back to safe participation in a particular sport.