Many different injuries can result from car accidents. People tend to think about common car accident injuries like broken bones or head injuries, but those aren’t the only injuries that a person might face if they are in a bad crash and have a medical emergency.
While a bone fracture may be easy to spot, one injury that’s not necessarily uncommon is compartment syndrome. This condition impacts the muscles and can turn from painful to life-threatening quickly. When you are involved in a car accident, you need to pay attention to how your muscles feel so that you might be able to spot a potential issue from a crush injury and try to prevent permanent muscle damage or any permanent damage.
A compartment is a space in groups of muscles beneath the fascia that contains those muscles, blood vessels, and nerves in the arms and legs. When there is bleeding or swelling within the compartment, there isn’t anywhere for it to go because the fascia doesn’t expand. It remains rigid since it is meant to keep these structures in place. As the compartment pressure builds, the blood supply to the nerves and vessels in the compartment decreases. This lack of blood flow causes a lack of blood supply and means that the muscles and nerves aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients they need. Imagine tight bandages, only it’s much too tight, which can happen if tight bandages are applied BEFORE the swelling has gone down on the affected limb.
There are two types of compartment syndrome. One is called acute compartment syndrome, and the other is chronic compartment syndrome, and each has its risk factors, causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Acute compartment syndrome is caused most commonly by car accidents, crash injuries, badly bruised muscles, fractured bones, or if an area lacking blood flow suddenly has a new blood supply or reperfusion. Maintaining blood flow and perfusion is vital to keeping the body healthy and happy, and acute compartment syndrome typically occurs suddenly and disrupts the blood flow. When someone experiences acute compartment syndrome, it is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment to avoid long-term muscle damage in the affected limb.
Chronic compartment syndrome is a musculoskeletal condition that typically occurs gradually and is caused by exerting too much. Common causes are exercise, biking, running, or other activities where you can push yourself too far through repetitive motions. However, anabolic steroids can also lead to this, as the use of anabolic steroids can cause the muscle to grow too quickly for the body to compensate and blood flow to the muscles becomes constricted. It is also referred to as exertional compartment syndrome due to the nature of how the injury occurs. These can be minor injuries; however, you should always consult your healthcare professional for medical advice on how to proceed or if you have chronic exertional compartment syndrome.
Acute compartment syndrome happens most commonly in the lower legs but can also affect other parts of the leg, feet, arms, hands, abdomen (belly), and buttocks. Shin splints and other injuries that can cause increased pressure in the muscle compartment can lead to needing a fasciotomy or surgical emergency procedures.
Severe pain is one of the signs of compartment syndrome. Often there needs to be something done beyond a simple physical examination to determine causes (vascular or other), or to determine if thrombosis is occurring, if there are stress fractures, soft tissue injury, or if there is a renal injury that results in rhabdomyolysis, which can result in advanced compartment syndrome. Please seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis of compartment syndrome.
The primary sign of compartment syndrome is extreme pain, and pain is among the most noticeable symptoms of acute compartment syndrome. This is much worse than what you would expect from only the injury. You might feel like your muscle is full or your skin is tingling. One of the most common areas for this to occur is the anterior (front) of the lower leg (the calf muscle). The symptoms might worsen when you have to use the muscle. If the injury is allowed to progress, there is a chance that you will begin cramping and then feel numbness, tingling, a burning sensation, or a general change in sensation (paresthesias).
This is a sign that permanent injury has occurred from the increased pressure. Suppose you suspect that you’re suffering from this condition. In that case, you should immediately head to the emergency room to have your arm or leg evaluated and to have the doctors look for necrosis, splints, pulselessness, hematoma, or other signs of acute compartment syndrome.
The affected limb will have severe pain, and the affected compartment will have increased pressure, where arterial pressure measurements are well beyond their normal levels. The doctors can measure that pressure by inserting a needle that measures the mmHg (pressure) of the muscle and affected area and compare it to the diastolic blood pressure and determine if there is elevated compartment pressure. The affected muscle could have other issues arise, such as contracture, where the muscle tightens or shortens beyond the normal range and doesn’t allow for decompression of the tightened muscle group.
You can also suffer from ischemia by stopping the refilling of the capillaries. When blood flow to the capillary cannot fulfill the metabolic needs of the tissue, ischemia can start.
You will need emergency treatment if you have acute compartment syndrome and may require emergency treatment in the case of chronic compartment syndrome. Surgery is necessary in many acute compartment syndrome cases to relieve the pressure within the compartment. Doctors will also need to rule out other potential causes of the pain, such as checking your tendons for tendinitis in your lower legs. Even if you do get a prompt physical exam and emergency medical care, there is a chance that you will still suffer from long-lasting impacts on your body. There is the possibility of prolonged nerve damage and muscle deterioration that come from this condition being left untreated too long or having an orthopedic (or orthopedic) surgeon, someone who is part of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, correct bones that have become deformed from having increased pressure for too long with either custom orthotic inserts or other treatments. Inserts and NSAIDs may provide temporary relief, but chronic compartment syndrome can also be treated with physical therapy and reducing whatever activity was causing the issue in the first place. Physical therapy stretches the muscles, allowing room for additional blood flow.
Whether chronic or acute compartment syndrome, amputation would be an option if the injuries are too severe or if the severe injuries go untreated for too long. After which, the healing process can be long, along with skin grafts and physical therapy.
X-rays of the broken bones, tibia, affected limb, or affected area may also be needed. Sepsis is possible if an infection is caused by a condition not treated.
On top of these long-lasting impacts, you also have to face the recovery from the surgery and the aftermath of rehabilitation.
You and your loved ones should not have to face these challenges alone if you were the victim of someone else’s negligence. Our injury law firm has been helping injury victims in the Kansas City metro for many years. It can offer you a free case evaluation to review the facts and provide legal advice on proceeding.
Call today, and stop fighting this battle alone.