Are certain fractures at increased risk for compartment syndrome after civilian ballistic injury?

J Trauma. 2011 Nov;71(5):1385-9. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e31822fec25.


Background: Compartment syndrome after ballistic fracture is uncommon but potentially devastating. Few data are available to help guide clinicians regarding risk factors for developing compartment syndrome after ballistic fractures. Our primary hypothesis was that ballistic fractures of certain bones would be at higher risk for development of compartment syndrome.

Methods: A retrospective review at a Level I trauma center from 2001 through 2007 yielded 650 patients with 938 fractures resulting from gunshots. We reviewed all operative notes, clinic notes, discharge summaries, and data from our prospective trauma database. Cases in which the attending orthopedic surgeon diagnosed compartment syndrome and performed fasciotomy were considered cases with compartment syndrome. We excluded all prophylactic fasciotomies. Univariate analyses were conducted to identify risk factors associated with development of compartment syndrome.

Results: Twenty-six (2.8%) of the 938 fractures were associated with compartment syndrome. Only fibular (11.6%) and tibial (11.4%) fractures had incidence significantly higher than baseline for all ballistic fractures (p < 0.001). Fractures of the proximal third of the fibula were more likely to result in compartment syndrome than fractures of the middle or distal third (p = 0.03), as were fractures of the proximal third of the tibia (p = 0.01). No other demographic or injury parameters were associated with compartment syndrome.

Conclusion: Ballistic fractures of the fibula and tibia are at increased risk for development of compartment syndrome over other ballistic fractures. We recommend increased vigilance when treating these injuries, particularly if the fracture is in the proximal aspect of the bone or is associated with vascular injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Compartment Syndromes / etiology*
  • Female
  • Fibula / injuries
  • Fractures, Bone / complications*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Tibial Fractures / complications
  • Trauma Centers
  • Wounds, Gunshot / complications*