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Compartment Syndrome in Children: Care Instructions


Compartment syndrome occurs when there is swelling inside a limb. The swelling causes pressure to build up and squeezes shut blood vessels and damages nerves. When the limb loses blood supply, it begins to ache. The ache increases to very severe pain. If compartment syndrome is not treated quickly, it can cause serious nerve and muscle damage and may lead to loss of the limb.

Compartment syndrome can happen if your child has a very bad injury such as a broken or crushed bone, a snake bite, a bad burn, or severe skin and tissue damage. It also can develop if a cast or wrapping is too tight. It happens most often in the arm or leg.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Follow the doctor's instructions about activity during your child's healing process. If your child can do mild exercise, slowly increase your child's activity.
  • Help your child get rest and sleep.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your child had surgery, take care of the cuts (incisions) as they heal.
    • If your child has stitches, follow any specific instructions you got on how to take care of them. In general, keep the area clean and dry. Follow the doctor's instructions on when your child can get the incision wet.
    • If your child has strips of tape on the incision, leave the strips on until the doctor says it is okay to remove them.
  • If your child has a splint or a cast, follow the instructions the doctor gives you.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has severe pain in the toes or fingers, and they have turned dark blue or black in colour.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child's foot or hand is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • Your child has tingling or numbness in a hand or foot.
  • Your child's cast or splint feels too tight.
  • Your child has signs of a blood clot in a leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness or swelling in a leg.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in the area.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child's pain is not getting better.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.