Introduction: Compartment syndrome complicating intramedullary nailing of closed tibia fractures has been described as early as the 1980s, but currently remains less described in literature compared to compartment syndrome directly following trauma. This study aims to review this potentially disabling complication and highlight the importance of timely diagnosis and management of compartment syndrome following fracture fixation, not just after fracture itself, via a review of three cases.
Material and methods: A retrospective study of a series of three cases was conducted. The type of fracture, wait time to fixation, surgery duration, reaming, size of nail implant used, tourniquet time, and surgical technique were recorded. Time to diagnosis of compartment syndrome, compartment pressure if available, extent of muscle necrosis, reconstructive procedures performed, and post-operative complications were analysed.
Results: The three cases following high-energy trauma from road traffic accidents presented from January to May 2010. Compartment syndrome was diagnosed clinically for all cases, between one to six days post-operatively and supported by elevated compartment pressure measurements in two of the three cases.
Conclusion: This study advocates thorough clinical monitoring and maintaining strong clinical suspicion of compartment syndrome in patients even after intramedullary nail fixation of tibial shaft fractures to achieve timely limb-salvaging intervention. While intercompartmental pressure can be used to aid in diagnosis, we do not advise using it in isolation to diagnose compartment syndrome. Tendon transfer improves functional mobility and provides a good result in patients with severe muscle damage, while skin grafting sufficient in patients with minimal muscle damage.
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