Compartment syndrome of the thigh: a systematic review

Injury. 2010 Feb;41(2):133-6. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2009.03.016. Epub 2009 Jun 24.


Introduction: Thigh compartment syndrome is a surgical emergency with risk of high morbidity and mortality rates. The purpose of this study was to review the available evidence regarding the causes of thigh compartment syndrome, techniques of fasciotomy (specifically, one versus two incisions), methods of wound closure, and complications.

Methods: This institutional review board-exempt study was performed at a level-one trauma centre. PubMed and Medline OVID databases in the English language were searched for case series of two or more cases of compartment syndrome of the thigh. Cases were reviewed and analysed for causes of thigh compartment syndrome, number of fasciotomy incisions, methods of wound closure, and complications.

Results: A total of 9 papers met our criteria. All were retrospective case studies comprising a total of 89 patients. The most common cause was blunt trauma (90%). Motor vehicle accidents accounted for 36% of cases whilst motorcycle accidents were involved in 9%. Associated injuries included femur fractures in 48%, other limb fractures, renal, cardiovascular and head insults. Eighty-six percent of fasciotomies were performed through a single incision. Fifty-nine percent of fasciotomy wounds were closed by delayed primary closure, 26% had split-thickness skin grafts, and 15% had primary wound closure. Neurological deficits were the most common complications.

Conclusion: There are limited data on thigh compartment syndrome with respect to cause, use of one versus two incisions for fasciotomy, methods of wound closure, and complication rates. Prospective studies are required to better define these variables in order to optimise the management of this problem.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Compartment Syndromes / etiology
  • Compartment Syndromes / mortality
  • Compartment Syndromes / surgery*
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods
  • Fasciotomy*
  • Female
  • Femoral Fractures / complications
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin Transplantation / methods
  • Suture Techniques
  • Thigh
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / complications*
  • Young Adult