The acute compartment syndrome following fractures of the lower leg in children

Peter W Ferlic, Georg Singer, Tanja Kraus, Robert Eberl
Injury 2012, 43 (10): 1743-6

INTRODUCTION: The acute compartment syndrome (ACS) of the lower leg is a rare but serious complication following either fractures or soft tissue injuries. An acute intervention consisting of fasciotomy is indicated as ACS may cause muscle and nerve damage. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the cause, the incidence, the time to fasciotomy and the outcome of ACS of the lower leg following fractures in a paediatric population.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: A retrospective analysis of all patients with ACS following a fracture of the lower leg treated from 1998 to 2010 was performed. The time from admission to occurrence of the ACS, the kind of fracture and surgical treatment was evaluated. Accident mechanisms were recorded.

RESULTS: A total of 1028 fractures of the lower leg were treated. 31 patients (3%) with a median age of 14.6 years (range 7.3-17.1 years) developed an ACS. In the group of patients younger than 12 years the incidence was even lower (1.3%). 81% of injuries leading to ACS were caused by high-energy trauma, with motorcycle accidents being the most common (45%). External fixation was used in 45%, including all open fractures. The diagnosis of an ACS was primarily based on clinical symptoms. In 23 cases an intracompartmental pressure of median 55mmHg (range 40-100mmHg) were measured. ACS was diagnosed after 19h mean (range: 1.5-65h). There was a tendency that the ACS occurred earlier after high-energy trauma than after low energy trauma (mean 16.9 vs. mean 28h). No complications linked to the compartment syndrome were observed.

DISCUSSION: ACS can occur up to 65h after an accident and therefore clinical monitoring is fundamental in order to be able to surgically intervene as soon as possible when needed. With early decompression complications can be prevented.

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