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Stretches and Exercises for Compartment Syndrome

author image Erika McAuley
Erika McAuley is a freelance writer from Abbotsford, British Columbia. As an exercise rehabilitation professional, she has been preventing and treating musculoskeletal injuries in athletes and civil workers since 2008. McAuley holds a Bachelor of Human Kinetics in athletic therapy from Trinity Western University and an Advanced Certificate in Athletic Therapy from Mount Royal University.
Stretches and Exercises for Compartment Syndrome
Compartment syndrome's primary symptom is severe pain in the muscles affected.

Compartment syndrome is a complication of an existing injury, such as a significant muscle bruise or fracture. Bleeding and swelling of soft tissue increases the pressure within a limb. Loss of circulation, paralysis, reduced pulse and taut skin are the notable symptoms. The most common affected areas of the body are the forearms, the lower legs and the upper thighs. Stretching and light exercise may help alleviate some forms of compartment syndrome.

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There are two categories of compartment syndrome - acute and chronic. Acute compartment syndrome is less common and must be treated immediately. If the muscle tissue is without blood and oxygen for four to five hours it will die and a significant loss in function will result. A surgical fasiotomy that releases the pressure is often warranted for acute compartment syndrome, according to the "Clinical Guide to Sports Injuries." Chronic compartment syndrome is more common and is caused by sustained, repetitive activities, such as running. Symptoms often flare during increased training periods.

Activity Modification

For chronic compartment syndrome, stop the activity that is triggering the increase in symptoms. Treatment of chronic compartment syndrome begins with rest from the aggravating activity until the symptoms have dissipated completely. For many athletes, this means a significant break from their sport. Once the symptoms have left, modified return to the activity may begin. If you want to continue your sport, surgical treatment is the best option, according to "Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Sports Medicine."

Stretching and Ice Exercise

For chronic compartment syndrome, relax the muscles of the affected limb by lightly stretching. Continue with an ice massage to reduce swelling and pain. As an example, if the compartment syndrome is in the lower leg, raise your toes toward your nose for a count of 30 seconds. Then point the toes for 30 seconds. Repeat three to five times. Rest the limb comfortably and rub an ice cube along the tender muscles for five to 15 minutes.

Swelling Reduction Exercise

For chronic compartment syndrome, release the pressure of residual swelling by using a massage stick or foam roller to roll along the muscles. Begin by rolling slowly from the affected limb toward the body. Reducing the swelling and pressure of the muscles will alleviate pain.

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  • "Clinical Guide to Sports Injuries"; Roald Bahr, et al.; 2004
  • "Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation"; Walter R. Frontera, et al.; 2008
  • "Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Sports Medicine"; Patrick J. McMahon; 2007
  • "Fundamentals of Sports Injury Management"; Marcia K. Anderson; 2002
  • "Therapeutic Modalities"; Chad Starkey; 2004
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