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Common compartment syndromes in athletes. Treatment and rehabilitation.

Hutchinson MR, Ireland ML. Sports Med 1994 Mar;17(3):200-8.

Compartment syndromes in athletes are rare, but they can also be limb-threatening events. Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) is a less emergent form where symptoms recur with repetitive loading or exertional activities. CECS is the most common form of compartment syndrome seen in athletes. Acute compartment syndromes may also occur in athletes secondary to direct trauma or may develop from pre-existing CECS. The leg is by far the most common site of compartment syndrome in athletes. The thigh, forearm, and foot are the next most common sites, although any fascially limited compartment can be affected. Awareness of the clinical presentation and pathophysiology of compartment syndromes can help the examiner make a prompt and accurate diagnosis. The treatment of acute compartment syndrome is emergent while the treatment of CECS is not. Conservative treatment and rehabilitation can be successful in treating CECS. Acute compartment syndromes must be treated immediately with surgical decompression. With CECS, if conservative treatment fails, surgical decompression is also indicated. Some authors have suggested that the results of surgical fasciotomy and rate of return to sport for athletes with CECS has not been uniform. If the diagnosis is accurate and carefully documented, a high degree of success with athletes returning to sport can be expected.

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