Compartment syndrome

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Compartment Syndrome

Compartment Syndrome is a rare cause of acute onset of severe unilateral forelimb lameness in horses. It is considered an emergency condition which occurs when pressure within a portion of a body compartment which contains muscles and nerves builds up to dangerous levels.

The increased pressure decreases blood flow to the affected tissues which prevents oxygen from getting to the nerve and muscle cells. Left untreated, this condition can result in permanent damage to the tissues and can cause a loss of function of the limb.

Compartment syndrome can occur due to trauma (collision with a fixed object, fall, or kick from another horse), thermal injuries, or wrapping a horse's legs too tightly. Compartment syndrome can occur in acute or chronic form. Acute form involves severe high pressure in the compartment following a single incident, and the chronic form is an exercised induced condition in which the pressure in the muscles increases to extreme levels during exercise.

Symptoms

Severe lameness
Dropped elbow appearance
Pain on palpation
Increased firmness with pressure
Decrease in skin sensation
Swelling
Decreased range of motion
Decreased pulse quality in the affected limb
Area feels cold to touch

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs
  • Ultrasound - Confirmation of intramuscular hemorrhage of the caudal antebrachial muscles.

Treatment

Surgery

Prevention

  • Involve a veterinarian early on after an injury, especially high energy impact injuries involving a fall, collision, or kick.
  • Learn how to properly bandage horses' legs, or have someone who is experienced and knowledgeable do it.

Prognosis

Depends on the degree and chronicity of the injury and the response to treatment

Scientific Research

General Overviews

Risk Factors

  • History of trauma - Collision with a fixed object, fall, or kick from another horse.
  • Bandaging a horse's legs too tightly.