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Compartment syndrome can result in amputation

One seldom mentioned hazard to construction workers is compartment syndrome, a very serious condition involving a build-up of pressure in the muscle compartments. If left untreated, nerve or muscle damage and circulatory problems can result.

Compartment syndrome occurs in the thick tissue layers known as fascia that separates different muscle groups in the legs and arms. Inside the layers of fascia are confined spaces called compartments. These compartments include blood vessels, nerves and muscle tissue and are wrapped in fascia like wires are covered by insulation.

Problems develop because fascia does not expand. Swelling within the compartments causes pressure to build, which can compromise the integrity of the nerves, blood vessels and muscles. When the pressure becomes too high, it blocks circulation to the compartment, which can result in permanent nerve and muscle damage. If emergency care is delayed for too long, the muscles can die, necessitating that a limb be amputated.

These injuries are frequently found in victims of car wrecks and industrial crushing injuries. Swelling may also result from the trauma of soft tissue injuries and complex fractures. The areas most affected by compartment syndrome are the forearms and lower legs. However, the syndrome can also develop in the upper arms, hands, feet and thighs.

The symptoms of compartment syndrome may include:

-- Severe, unrelenting pain

-- Diminished sensation

-- Pale skin color

-- Weakness

-- Tingling and numbness

Once a diagnosis of compartment surgery is made, immediate surgical intervention is necessary. Surgeons make long cuts through the muscle in order to relieve pressure. The wounds are then covered with sterile dressing until surgically closed within two to three days. Sometimes a patient requires skin grafts to close the wound.

If you are injured on the job, our attorneys can assist you with filing a claim or litigation for your on-the-job injury.

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