Acute pediatric upper extremity compartment syndrome in the absence of fracture

J Pediatr Orthop. Apr-May 2009;29(3):263-8. doi: 10.1097/BPO.0b013e31819c3d54.


Background: To determine the etiologies and outcomes associated with acute pediatric upper extremity compartment syndrome in the absence of fracture.

Methods: A retrospective review was performed looking at children treated for acute upper extremity compartment syndrome in the absence of fracture at a major teaching hospital. Reason for admission, age, etiology, sensorium, time to fasciotomy, involved compartments, secondary procedures, and functional outcome were recorded.

Results: A total of 14 extremities in 13 children with acute compartment syndrome in the absence of fracture were identified over a 22-year period at this single institution. There were 8 boys and 5 girls, with an average age of 7.2 years. Average follow-up was 22 months. Ten patients were being managed in the intensive care unit and had an obtunded sensorium. The cause was iatrogenic in 8 patients, and 2 of these resulted in loss of the involved limb. Six patients required 9 secondary procedures, including 4 amputations, 3 contracture releases, and 2 skin grafts. Of the 3 patients who required a total of 4 amputations, 2 of the patients were in the intensive care unit, and all were younger than 3 years. Only 7 patients had normal hand function. Upon comparing patients with a normal outcome versus those with an abnormal outcome, there was a statistically significant difference if surgery was performed in shorter than 6 hours (P = 0.033).

Conclusions: This problem is often iatrogenic in etiology and can be diagnosed late in this population. An increased level of vigilance should be adopted for this entity because the final outcome can be catastrophic for both the patient and the hospital and early fasciotomy is associated with improved results.

Level of evidence: Level IV Case Series.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Amputation*
  • Arm / blood supply*
  • Arm / physiopathology
  • Arm / surgery
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Compartment Syndromes / etiology
  • Compartment Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Compartment Syndromes / therapy*
  • Contracture / etiology
  • Contracture / surgery
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Transplantation / methods
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome