Complex Foot and Ankle Specialists

Have you experienced frequent cramping in the lower legs while exercising? This sensation may be caused by a lack of blood flow to the muscles of the lower legs. This condition is called Exertional compartment syndrome and it may cause pain or decrease motor function in the lower legs. Foot and ankle specialists, Doctors Thomas Haytmanek and Jonathon Backus provide diagnoses and specialized treatment plans for patients in Vail, Aspen, and the surrounding Denver, Colorado communities who are experiencing lower leg pain during exercise. Contact The Steadman Clinic’s Sports Foot and Ankle team today!

What is Exertional Compartment Syndrome?

Exertional compartment syndrome is an overuse phenomenon that creates pain and limited function in the lower leg.  This is different from acute compartment syndrome which is typically directly related to significant trauma in the lower leg.  Exertional compartment syndrome happens when exercise causes the pressures to rise within the compartments of the lower leg limiting blood flow to the muscles and creating a cramping, painful sensation.

What are the symptoms of exertional compartment syndrome?

Pain is usually experienced when the compartment pressure rises within the leg interfering with the normal muscle function.  In more significant cases decreased nerve and motor function may be experienced as they become compromised due to limited oxygen delivery.

How is exertional compartment syndrome diagnosed?

Our physicians will perform an extensive physical examination including x-rays.  If exertional compartment syndrome is suspected further testing may be required. Often MRI or CT scan would be used to rule out a stress fracture.  The golden standard for assessment of compartment testing includes compartment pressure measurements done immediately after exercise (while symptoms are present).

These are typically not performed by our physicians and would require testing to be done prior to an office visit.

Are you experiencing exertional compartment syndrome symptoms?

There are two ways to initiate a consultation with the sports foot & ankle group:

You can provide current X-rays and/or MRIs for a clinical case review ($400).

You can schedule an office consultation.

How is exertional compartment syndrome treated without Surgery?

Treatment will vary according to the nature of the symptoms. If detected early a regime of rest and gentle therapy will be attempted. Changes in training may be needed.  Muscle imbalances may be identified and treated by our physical therapy team as proximal muscle weakness may contribute to exertional compartment syndrome.

Does exertional compartment syndrome require surgery?

Surgical intervention involves release of the affected lower leg compartments.  A selective fasciotomy (release) is completed on the affected compartments—this is typically dictated by location of symptoms and preoperative pressure tests.

How long is the recovery following exertional compartment syndrome surgery?

Following surgical intervention the patient will be non-weight bearing for a period of 1-2 weeks.  This allows the incisions to heal and the soft tissues inflammation to subside.  The patient will then begin ambulation in a removable CAM boot and a 6-8 week course of physical therapy.

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