Background: Incomplete or delayed fasciotomies are associated with muscle necrosis and death in civilian trauma. Combat explosions severely damage tissue and distort normal anatomy making fasciotomies challenging. Rapid air evacuation may delay treatment of patients with evolving extremity compartment syndrome. We investigated the impact of fasciotomy revision and delayed compartment release on combat casualties after air evacuation.
Methods: A retrospective review was performed of combat casualties who underwent fasciotomies in Iraq, Afghanistan, or at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center between January 1, 2005 and August 31, 2006. Outcomes were rates of muscle excision, major amputation, and mortality.
Results: A total of 336 patients underwent 643 fasciotomies. Most were to the lower leg (49%) and forearm (23%). Patients who underwent a fasciotomy revision had higher rates of muscle excision (35% vs. 9%, p < 0.01) and mortality (20% vs. 6%, p < 0.01) than those who did not receive a revision. The anterior and deep compartments of the lower leg were the most commonly unopened. Patients who underwent fasciotomy after evacuation had higher rates of muscle excision (25% vs. 11%), amputation (31 vs. 15%), and mortality (19% vs. 5%) than patients who received their fasciotomies in the combat theater (p < 0.01). Patients who underwent revisions or delayed fasciotomies had higher Injury Severity Score and larger burns as well as lower systolic blood pressure, acidosis, and more pressor use during air evacuation. These patients also received more blood products at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Conclusion: Fasciotomy revision was associated with a fourfold increase in mortality. The most common revision procedures were extension of fascial incisions and opening new compartments. The most commonly unopened compartment was the anterior compartment of the lower leg. Patients who underwent delayed fasciotomies had twice the rate of major amputation and a threefold higher mortality.