Exertional compartment syndrome is a condition that occurs when the muscles in one of your leg compartments become too tight and compress the blood vessels and nerves inside the compartment.
Compartments are separate spaces within your lower leg, thigh, or buttock muscle groups. These compartments contain muscles and their blood vessels and nerves. Exertional compartment syndrome occurs when these muscles expand during exercise and the fascial covering around the muscles becomes too tight. This can pinch the blood vessels and nerves inside the compartment, causing pain and swelling.
The three types of exertional compartment syndrome are:
-Acute exertional compartment syndrome: This type of exertional compartment syndrome occurs suddenly, often after a single forceful exercise or activity. It’s most common in young athletes who participate in sports such as basketball, football, wrestling and soccer.
-Chronic exertional compartment syndrome: This type of exertional compartment syndrome develops over time due to repeated pressure on a muscle, tendon or other tissue within a closed space (compartment) in your leg or foot. The most common causes include diabetes and obesity as well as certain medical conditions such as cancer and arthritis that affect blood vessels or nerves near your joints.
-Rest pain: Rest pain is caused by an injury that doesn’t cause any visible swelling but may cause pain when you rest after taking part in activities such as walking or running long distances without wearing proper shoes for support or using equipment that doesn’t fit properly around your ankles (such as high heels).
During exercise, the muscles expand and fill with fluid. The fascial covering around the muscles becomes too tight to allow for this expansion, causing pain and discomfort in the area.
Exertional compartment syndrome most often affects athletes who participate in sports that require repetitive jumping, running, or kicking. It can also affect people who regularly exercise at high intensities for long periods of time.
The condition has been reported in a variety of sports, including soccer, football, basketball, hockey, golfing and jogging.
The most common cause of exertional compartment syndrome is exercise-induced muscle damage, which occurs when your muscles are damaged by overuse or overstretching. When this happens, your muscle becomes swollen and tender to touch. The pain associated with exertional compartment syndrome can range from mild discomfort to severe enough that it interferes with your daily life.
Pain is the most common symptom of exertional compartment syndrome. The pain may be felt during exercise, but it can also come on after a workout or sports activity has ended. The pain is usually worse at night or when you’re resting.
The best way to prevent this condition is to practice good muscle conditioning by working out regularly and stretching before you exercise. If you notice pain or swelling after exercising, stop immediately and rest before trying again.
To prevent exertional compartment syndrome:
-Warm up for at least five minutes before exercising
-Avoid straining when lifting weights or pushing yourself too hard during exercise
-Stretch after exercising
-Wear supportive shoes that fit well
The treatment for exertional compartment syndrome focuses on reducing swelling in order to relieve pain. Treatment options include:
-Resting and icing your leg
-Compression devices like braces
There are several braces that may be used to treat exertional compartment syndrome, including:
Athletic taping – This involves wrapping tape around your affected limb to provide support and encourage blood flow through the muscles.
A compression sleeve – This is similar to athletic taping but less restrictive; instead of wrapping tape around your entire limb, you’ll only need one bandage over the affected area.
If you have exertional compartment syndrome, you’ll need to do range-of-motion exercises and muscle-strengthening exercises.
Range-of-Motion Exercises – These exercises are designed to improve the movement of your muscles in the affected area. You can do them on your own or with the help of a physical therapist.
Muscle Strengthening – It’s important to strengthen your muscles after they’ve been injured or weakened by exertional compartment syndrome. You can do this with the help of a physical therapist or by using resistance bands at home.
You may also want to try using an elliptical machine or stationary bike while wearing compression sleeves over the affected area.
Exertional compartment syndrome is a fairly common condition among athletes, but that does not mean it can’t have serious consequences. If you run or work out and you experience symptoms similar to those listed above, it is important to seek out medical attention as soon as possible. If you are suffering from ECS, do not resume exercising until your doctor advises you to do so. Doing so can make the condition worse and increase the damage done to your leg muscles.
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