Recovery & Support for Compartment Syndrome

Recovery from compartment syndrome focuses on rebuilding strength and flexibility in the affected muscles and modifying activities to prevent the condition from recurring. NYU Langone orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists—doctors who specialize in rehabilitation medicine—and physical therapists collaborate to help you feel better and return to physical activity as quickly as possible.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an important part of recovery after surgery for compartment syndrome. After the incision has healed and your doctor has determined that you can start physical therapy, our physiatrists and therapists customize an exercise routine designed to rebuild strength, flexibility, and range of motion in your leg or arm. Most, if not all, of the exercises can be performed at home.

In the first few weeks of physical therapy, the focus is on strengthening and stretching muscles without putting any weight on the affected limb. During this time, applying ice or heat to the muscles and taking anti-inflammatory medications may reduce postoperative swelling and pain. Reducing pain allows for more frequent and thorough exercise sessions, which may improve blood flow to the muscles and reduce recovery time.

Gradually, you can add weight-bearing exercises to your daily exercise routine, further strengthening muscles and increasing your range of motion. If weight-bearing exercises don’t cause pain in the affected limb, you may begin to incorporate high-impact activity.

Complete recovery from compartment syndrome typically takes three or four months.

Activity Modification

If you had compartment syndrome in the lower leg and plan to return to running or another high-impact sport, modifying your activity may help prevent the condition from recurring. NYU Langone doctors recommend always wearing proper footwear when exercising. Shoes should have adequate arch support and a cushioned sole. 

If you have an unusual foot posture, such as a flat foot, podiatrists or physical therapists at NYU Langone can provide a custom orthotic, or shoe insert, to correct the foot’s posture and make running more comfortable. 

Additionally, running on very hard surfaces, such as cement or AstroTurf, may cause symptoms to recur. A grass or track surface enables you to run without putting as much pressure on leg muscles.

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