Each group of muscles in the arms and legs, together with nearby blood vessels and nerves, is contained in a space surrounded by tissue called fascia.
Compartment syndrome occurs when the pressure within a compartment increases, restricting the blood flow to the area and potentially damaging the muscles and nearby nerves.
It usually occurs in the legs, feet, arms or hands, but can occur wherever there is an enclosed compartment inside the body. This article will help rehabilitate compartment syndrome in the calves, as this is the most common area. But the information will be translatable for other parts of the body too.
There are two main types of compartment syndrome: acute compartment syndrome and chronic (also called exertional) compartment syndrome.
Chronic compartment syndrome happens gradually, usually apparent during and immediately after repetitive exercise (such as running or cycling). The pain usually passes within minutes of stopping the activity and is not considered a medical emergency and doesn't cause permanent damage, as opposed to acute compartments syndrome.
Symptoms and Diagnosis.
Symptoms of chronic compartment syndrome tend to develop gradually during exercise and improve with rest.
Symptoms can include:
- cramping pain during exercise, most often in the legs
- swelling or a visibly bulging muscle
- a tingling sensation
- the affected area turning pale and cold
- in severe cases, difficulty moving the affected body part
To confirm chronic compartment syndrome, your doctor will measure the pressures in your compartment before and after exercise. If pressures remain high after exercise, there is a good chance you have chronic compartment syndrome.
It is very important that you are 100% sure which type of compartments syndrome you have before undertaking any home rehabilitation.
The best rehabilitation for this condition is manual massage, it is definitely recommended that you go to a professional to receive this massage. Also be warned that this is not a comfortable massage, it can be quite painful but over time and repeated sessions, you will feel the benefits.
Outside of the massage sessions you can improve the recovery time by performing range of motion and strengthening exercises. Range of motion exercise will help mobilise trapped or squashed tissue within the compartment and strengthening exercises help with fixing muscle imbalances. Both of these exercise types will rehabilitate the issue as well as prevent re-injury in the future.
Simply bring the toes upwards as far as you can, hold for 10 seconds and relax for 30 seconds.
During the relax phase, apply and massage an ice pack (or frozen peas) to the calf.
Repeat 4 times.
As the stretch becomes easier, start holding it for longer periods of time, only adding 2-3 seconds each progression, until you get to 30 seconds.
Repeat the exact same process but stretching the opposite way, so this time you are pointed your foot towards the ground.
Calf raises are a simple exercise that can help start strengthening the calf without being too painful.
At first you are going to want to perform these sat down on a chair. With your feet flat on the ground, lift your heel off the floor whilst keeping the toes on the ground.
Complete 3 sets of 10.
When you are finding this too easy, complete the exercise stood up, raising both your heels at the same time. After this you can try single leg calf raises.
Other than these exercises and professional massage, you can also perform some self massage using a foam roller, again this will not be comfortable but will help long term.
Finally you can try and change some small aspects to help the injury recovery happen faster and also prevent the same issue from returning.
Try and use fitted and better quality footwear, or buy a orthotic insole to go into your current shoes.
Try and avoid such activities that you know will aggravate the injury, or if you can not do that, try and pace yourself to reduce the impact on your muscles and other tissue.
Always allow your muscles enough recovery time after exercise.