Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Share this article on:

Silent compartment syndrome in children: a report of five cases

Lee, Christophera,b; Lightdale-Miric, Ninaa; Chang, Emoryc; Kay, Roberta

Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics B: September 2014 - Volume 23 - Issue 5 - p 467–471
doi: 10.1097/BPB.0000000000000066

Compartment syndrome does not always present classically in the pediatric population, making clinical diagnosis uniquely challenging. The purpose of this study was to identify signs and symptoms of compartment syndrome that may help risk-stratify pediatric patients upon presentation, as well as to report outcomes of ‘silent’ compartment syndrome in children. A retrospective review of cases of ‘silent’ compartment syndrome at a level I pediatric trauma center between 2000 and 2010 was conducted. Patient demographics and clinical data were reviewed, including complications and patient outcomes. Radiographs taken at presentation, on intraoperative fluoroscopy, and at postoperative follow-up were reviewed for fracture type, and severity and outcome analyses. Five patients were found to have compartment syndrome without the presence of significant pain at rest or on passive range of motion. The study included three male and two female patients with a median age of 7 years. Three upper-extremity and two lower-extremity fractures were involved. The mean time from presentation to surgery was 14 h. At presentation, three of five patients had muscle paralysis, whereas at diagnosis of compartment syndrome, four of five had paralysis. Of the classic five P’s, a maximum of two were found at diagnosis. The mean clinical follow-up period was 11 months (2–26 months). Long-term complications from compartment syndrome were found in one of five patients, who at the most recent follow-up, continued to be debilitated. This study reviews a series of cases of ‘silent’ compartment syndrome and confirms its atypical presentation. It is recommended that caution be used when assessing fractures with high risk for compartment syndrome in children, especially those complicated by nerve injury, as they do not always present in the classic manner, with missed diagnosis leading to significant functional deficits. Level of evidence: IV.

aDepartment of Orthopaedic Surgery, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

bDepartment of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California Los Angeles

cDepartment of Orthopaedic Surgery, Memorial Care Health System, Los Angeles, California, USA

Correspondence to Christopher Lee, MD, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, 4650 Sunset Boulevard, Mailstop #69, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA Tel: +1 323 361 4658; fax: +1 323 361 1310; e-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.