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Open Access Case report

Upper extremity compartment syndrome after minor trauma: an imperative for increased vigilance for a rare, but limb-threatening complication

Daniel A Seigerman1, Daniel Choi1, Derek J Donegan1, Richard S Yoon2 and Frank A Liporace2*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Orthopaedic Trauma, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, UMDNJ – New Jersey Medical School, 90 Bergen Street, Suite 1200, Newark, NJ, 07101, USA

2 Division of Orthopaedic Trauma Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, 301 E 17th Street, Suite 1402, New York, NY 10003, USA

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Patient Safety in Surgery 2013, 7:5  doi:10.1186/1754-9493-7-5

Published: 7 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Compartment syndrome of any extremity is a limb-threatening emergency requiring an emergent surgical management. Thus, ruling out compartment syndrome is often high on the list of priorities when treating high-energy injuries and fractures. However, even in the most seemingly benign injuries, this dangerous diagnosis must always remain on the differential and suspicion must remain high.

Case presentation

23-year-old factory worker presents after a low energy entrapment injury to his left forearm. Initial work-up and evaluation noted an isolated radial head dislocation with a normal physical motor and sensory exam. However, maintaining high suspicion for compartment syndrome despite serial normal physical exams, led objective compartment pressure measurement leading to definitive diagnosis. Emergent surgical intervention via compartment fasciotomies was performed, along with closed reduction and ligament repair. At 1 year follow-up, the patient was well-healed, back to work with full range of motion and not activity limitations.

Conclusion

Despite a seemingly benign injury pattern, and a relatively low energy mechanism, vigilant concern for compartment syndrome following any kind of entrapment injury should initiate serial examinations and compartment pressure measurements especially in circumstances with continued swelling and inability to perform an accurate clinical assessment due to an obtunded or medicated patient.

Keywords:
Compartment syndrome; Radial head dislocation; Upper extremity; Compartment pressures