Diagnosis and management of symptomatic muscle herniation of the extremities: a retrospective review

Am J Sports Med. 2013 Sep;41(9):2174-80. doi: 10.1177/0363546513493598. Epub 2013 Jun 28.


Background: There is a paucity of published literature on diagnosis and surgical management of muscle herniation of the extremities, with most reported cases involving military personnel and men aged 18 to 40 years. Hypothesis/

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to describe the presentation, diagnosis, and results of fasciotomy for symptomatic muscle herniation in young athletes. We hypothesize that fasciotomy can be a safe and effective treatment option that allows the majority of athletes to return to sports.

Study design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: From 2001 to 2011, 26 athletes (19 women; 11 runners) with a mean age 19.0 ± 4.0 years (range, 14.2-28.4 years) underwent fasciotomy for symptomatic muscle herniation at the authors' institution. Retrospective chart review recorded pertinent patient data and clinical course. Questionnaires were sent to all patients to assess satisfaction with surgery, ability to return to sports, and residual symptoms.

Results: Muscle hernias were classified as primary (n = 8, 31%), postsurgical (n = 8, 31%), and associated with underlying untreated chronic exertional compartment syndrome (n = 10, 38%). The tibialis anterior muscle (n = 12, 46%) was most commonly involved. The mean time from onset of symptoms to surgery was 15.1 ± 8.6 months (range, 3-38 months). Dynamic ultrasound (5/6 patients, 83%) was more accurate than magnetic resonance imaging (3/18, 17%) at identifying the hernia. At median follow-up of 28 months (range, 12-127 months), 17 patients (65%) had returned to sports. Seventeen patients (65%) completed the postoperative questionnaire; 14 reported being satisfied with their results (82%). Mild residual symptoms were common (9 of 17 respondents, 53%), especially in runners (5 of 7, 71%), all of whom were satisfied with surgery. Patients with a postsurgical muscle herniation took the longest to return to sports and were the least likely to return to sports, had the highest rate of dissatisfaction with surgery, and were most likely to have persistent symptoms not improved by surgery.

Conclusion: Fasciotomy is a safe surgical option for symptomatic muscle herniation in young athletes. Many patients are able to return to sports and most are satisfied with surgery. Residual symptoms are common, especially in runners. Patients with postsurgical muscle herniations may have the worst clinical outcome.

Keywords: chronic exertional compartment syndrome; fascial defect; fasciotomy; muscle hernia.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletes
  • Fasciotomy*
  • Female
  • Herniorrhaphy*
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / surgery*
  • Male
  • Muscular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Muscular Diseases / surgery*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult