Effect of lower extremity fasciotomy length on intracompartmental pressure in an animal model of compartment syndrome: the importance of achieving a minimum of 90% fascial release

Am J Sports Med. 2015 Jan;43(1):75-8. doi: 10.1177/0363546514554601. Epub 2014 Oct 31.


Background: There has been an increase in minimally invasive surgery for chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS), despite the potential for incomplete compartment release and iatrogenic injuries. To our knowledge, no study has examined the effect of the length of fascial release on compartment pressures.

Purpose/hypothesis: The purpose was to explain the high failure rate seen in fascial release for CECS by evaluating the effect of fasciotomy length on intracompartmental pressures. We hypothesized that complete fascial release would need to be performed to return pressures to baseline levels.

Study design: Controlled laboratory study.

Methods: Five male swine (10 lower extremities) were anesthetized. A slit catheter, connected to a pressure monitor, was inserted into the anterior compartment and a solution containing 5% swine albumin was injected into the compartment until the compartment pressure was >25 mm Hg for 10 minutes. Pressures were measured at rest, after the injection, and after each 10% incremental fasciotomy release.

Results: The mean resting intracompartmental pressure was 3.2 mm Hg (range, 0-6 mm Hg), which increased after the injection to a mean of 37 mm Hg (range, 26-67 mm Hg). After complete fasciotomy, the mean pressure was 1.1 mm Hg (range, 0-4 mm Hg). There was a strong negative correlation (r=-0.693) between fasciotomy length and intracompartmental pressure. In 90% of the specimens, the pressures were <15 mm Hg after 80% fascial release, and after 90% release, all pressures were ≤8 mm Hg.

Conclusion: This study demonstrates a strong correlation between fasciotomy length and a reduction in intracompartmental pressures in a swine model. Our study suggests that 90% fascial release may represent a possible watershed zone, returning the intracompartmental pressure to a value at or near baseline values.

Clinical relevance: The results suggest that even in cases with near complete fascial release, intracompartmental pressures may decrease enough to provide symptomatic relief and avoid possible iatrogenic injuries associated with percutaneous release. It is unknown whether the swine model may adequately translate to the clinical setting; thus, recommendations should be taken with caution, and future studies should be performed to examine the correlation in a human model.

Keywords: CECS; chronic exertional compartment syndrome; fasciotomy.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Compartment Syndromes / surgery*
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fasciotomy*
  • Lower Extremity / surgery
  • Male
  • Physical Exertion
  • Pressure
  • Swine