Surgical treatment of chronic exertional compartment syndrome of the leg: Failure rates and postoperative disability in an active patient population

Brian R. Waterman, Matthew Laughlin, Kelly Kilcoyne, Kenneth L. Cameron, Brett D. Owens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Background: Chronic exertional compartment syndrome of the leg is a frequent source of lower-extremity pain in military personnel, competitive athletes, and runners. We are not aware of any previous study in which the authors rigorously evaluated the rates of return to full activity, persistent disability, and surgical revision after operative management of chronic exertional compartment syndrome of the leg in a large, physically active population. Methods: Individuals who had undergone surgical fasciotomy of the anterior, lateral, and/or posterior compartments (Current Procedural Terminology [CPT] codes 27600, 27601, and 27602) for nontraumatic compartment syndrome of the lower extremity (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision [ICD-9] code 729.72) between 2003 and 2010 were identified from the Military Health System Management Analysis and Reporting Tool (M2). Demographic variables including age, sex, and rank were extracted, and rates of postoperative complications, activity limitations, and revision surgery or medical discharge were obtained from the electronic medical record and U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency database. Results: A total of 611 patients underwent 754 surgical procedures. The average patient age was 28.0 years, and 91.8% of the patients were male. Of the surgical procedures, 77.4% involved only anterior and lateral compartment releases; 19.4% addressed the anterior, lateral, and posterior compartments; and 2.2% addressed the posterior compartments alone. Symptom recurrence was reported by 44.7% of the patients, and 27.7% were unable to return to full activity. Surgical complications were documented for 15.7% of the patients, 5.9% underwent surgical revision, and 17.3% were referred for medical discharge because of chronic exertional compartment syndrome. Univariate analysis of prognostic factors revealed that surgical failure was associated with bilateral involvement (odds ratio [OR], 1.64), perioperative complications (OR, 2.12), activity limitations (OR, 4.41), and persistence of preoperative symptoms (OR, 8.46). Multivariable analysis confirmed significant associations between surgical failure and perioperative complications (OR, 1.72), activity limitations (OR, 2.23), and persistence of preoperative symptoms (OR, 5.47), whereas other factors were not significantly associated with surgical failure. Conclusions: Chronic exertional compartment syndrome is a substantial contributor to lower-extremity disability in the military population. Nearly half of all service members undergoing fasciotomy reported persistent symptoms, and one in five individuals had unsuccessful surgical treatment. Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)592-596
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Bone and Joint Surgery
Issue number7
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


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