Outcomes of Surgically Treated Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome in Runners

Sports Health. 2020 May/Jun;12(3):304-309. doi: 10.1177/1941738120907897. Epub 2020 Mar 12.


Background: Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) is primarily seen in running athletes. Previous outcomes of surgical treatment with fasciotomy have suggested moderate pain relief, but evidence is lacking regarding postoperative return to running.

Hypothesis: Running athletes with limiting symptoms of CECS will show high rates of return to running after fasciotomy.

Study design: Case series.

Level of evidence: Level 4.

Methods: Running athletes treated with fasciotomy for CECS at a single institution were identified using a surgical database and asked to complete a questionnaire designed to assess postoperative pain, activity level, return to running, running distances, overall satisfaction, and rate of revision fasciotomy.

Results: A total of 43 runners met the inclusion criteria, and 32 runners completed outcomes questionnaires at a mean postoperative follow-up of 66 months. In total, 27 of these 32 patients (84%) returned to sport(s) after fasciotomy. However, 9 (28%) of these patients pursued nonrunning sports, 5 (16%) due to recurrent pain with running. Of the 18 patients who returned to running sports (56%), the mean weekly running distance decreased postoperatively. Recurrence of symptoms was reported in 6 patients (19%), 4 of whom had returned to running and 2 of whom had been unable to return to sports. All of these 6 patients elected to undergo revision fasciotomy surgery. Twenty-five (78.1%) patients reported being satisfied with their procedure. In the overall cohort, the mean visual analog scale scores for pain during activities/sports decreased from 7.9 preoperatively to 1.7 postoperatively.

Conclusion: Fasciotomy for CECS in runners may provide significant improvement in pain and satisfaction in over three-quarters of patients and return to sports in 84% of patients. However, only 56% returned to competitive running activity, with a subset (19%) developing recurrent symptoms resulting in revision surgery.

Clinical relevance: Fasciotomy has been shown to decrease pain in most patients with CECS. This study provides outcomes in running athletes after fasciotomy for CECS with regard to return to sports, maintenance of sports performance, and rates of revision surgery.

Keywords: CECS; chronic exertional compartment syndrome; fasciotomy; return to play; runners.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Compartment Syndromes / surgery*
  • Fasciotomy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain, Postoperative
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Reoperation
  • Return to Sport
  • Running / injuries*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult