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Compartment syndrome of the Lower Leg

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What is compartment syndrome of the lower leg?

There are two common types of compartment syndrome of the lower leg.

Acute compartment syndrome can develop after injury, trauma, fracture or surgery. It is usually extremely painful with possible cramping, swelling, numbness, tingling, colour or temperature changes and burning symptoms.

If not treated immediately, this can lead to permanent damage, so if you develop these symptoms you should seek emergency medical care as soon as possible. There is more information about this on https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/compartment-syndrome/ or call 111 or 999 depending on the severity.

Chronic or exercise induced compartment syndrome is the most common compartment syndrome we see in Podiatry. This is pain which comes on with activity but usually eases with rest.

It can cause cramping, swelling, tingling, numbness and even colour and temperature changes.

Most people who come to Podiatry for this problem are frustrated because they are not able to exercise without this pain occurring.

How can I help myself?

Management can be hard but usually involves activity modification and rest.

Cross training (for example, if you are a runner, taking up cycling for a while), may help, and anti Inflammatory medication may help in the short term (see important safety information).

If you keep getting the problem, then there may be something else going on.

When to see a Podiatrist?

A podiatrist can assess your leg and also your biomechanics. A podiatrist can also issue stretching and strengthening exercises if needed, and where appropriate, foot orthoses can be used to try and help reduce stress through the affected tissues.

Often people come to see a Podiatrist with this problem because it is not getting better despite having other therapies or trying different things. Occasionally, surgery is an option for chronic compartment syndrome too.

If you book an appointment, it is wise to take your commonly used footwear so the Podiatrist has a good idea of what you are wearing.