Background: Chronic exertional compartment syndrome is diagnosed based on symptoms and elevated intramuscular pressure and often is treated with fasciotomy. However, what contributes to the increased intramuscular pressure remains unknown.
Questions/purposes: We investigated whether the stiffness or thickness of the muscle fascia could help explain the raised intramuscular pressure and thus the associated chronic compartment syndrome symptoms.
Patients and methods: We performed plain radiography, bone scan, and intramuscular pressure measurement to diagnose chronic compartment syndrome and to exclude other disorders. Anterior tibialis muscle fascial biopsy specimens from six healthy individuals, 11 patients with chronic compartment syndrome, and 10 patients with diabetes mellitus and chronic compartment syndrome were obtained. Weight-normalized fascial stiffness was assessed mechanically in a microtensile machine, and fascial thickness was analyzed microscopically.
Results: Mean fascial stiffness did not differ between healthy individuals (0.120 N/mg/mm; SD, 0.77 N/mg/mm), patients with chronic compartment syndrome (0.070 N/mg/mm; SD, 0.052 N/mg/mm), and patients with chronic compartment syndrome and diabetes (0.097 N/mg/mm; SD, 0.073 N/mg/mm). Similarly, no differences in fascial thickness were present. There was a negative correlation between fascial stiffness and intramuscular pressure in the patients with chronic compartment syndrome and diabetes.
Conclusions: The lack of difference in fascial thickness and stiffness in patients with chronic compartment syndrome and patients with chronic compartment syndrome and diabetes compared with healthy individuals suggests structural and mechanical properties are unlikely to explain chronic compartment syndrome. To prevent chronic exertional compartment syndrome, it is necessary to address aspects other than the muscle fascia.
Level of evidence: Level II, prognostic study. See the guidelines online for a complete description of level of evidence.