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Diagnostic Modalities for Acute Compartment Syndrome of the ExtremitiesA Systematic Review

Educational Objective To identify the existing diagnostic modalities for acute compartment syndrome (ACS) and the pros and cons of each method.
1 Credit CME
Key Points

Question  What are the existing diagnostic modalities and research models for acute compartment syndrome (ACS)?

Findings  In this systematic review of 51 studies, near-infrared spectroscopy and direct intracompartmental pressure measurement using a Stryker device were the most commonly used methods, but all modalities lacked a reliable threshold. Of the most commonly used models, cadaveric studies used saline infusions; most studies with human patients included injured patients with acquired ACS or at risk of developing ACS; in healthy human patients, tourniquets formed the most commonly used ACS model; and application of tourniquets and infusion of saline or albumin among animal studies.

Meaning  Future studies on diagnostic modalities should include continuous assessment tools to better identify the earliest signs of ACS and thereby establish a reliable threshold.


Importance  Acute compartment syndrome (ACS) can cause catastrophic tissue damage leading to permanent muscle and nerve loss. Acute compartment syndrome is a clinical diagnosis, with intracompartmental pressure (ICP) used in equivocal cases. There are no reliable diagnostic methods. The clinical evaluation is impossible to standardize, and the threshold for ICP has been known to be unreliable; thus, guidelines for diagnosis can result in overtreatment or delayed diagnosis.

Objective  To present and review the advantages and disadvantages of each diagnostic modality and identify gaps that need to be addressed in the future and to review the most used and appropriate animal and human ACS models.

Evidence Review  We included clinical studies and animal models investigating diagnostic modalities for ACS of the extremities. A MEDLINE and Web of Science search was performed. The protocol for the study was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42017079266). We assessed the quality of the clinical studies with Newcastle-Ottawa scale and reported level of evidence for each article.

Findings  Fifty-one articles were included in this study, reporting on 38 noninvasive and 35 invasive modalities. Near-infrared spectroscopy and direct ICP measurement using a Stryker device were the most common, respectively. Cadaveric studies used saline infusions to create an ACS model. Most studies with human participants included injured patients with acquired ACS or at risk of developing ACS. In healthy human participants, tourniquets formed the most commonly used ACS model. Application of tourniquets and infusion of saline or albumin were the most used ACS models among animal studies.

Conclusions and Relevance  This article reports on the most common as well as many new and modified diagnostic modalities, which can serve as inspiration for future investigations to develop more effective and efficient diagnostic techniques for ACS. Future studies on diagnostic modalities should include the development of tools for continuous assessment of ICP to better identify the earliest alterations suggestive of impending ACS. With the advent of such technologies, it may be possible to develop far less aggressive and more effective approaches for early detection of ACS.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Ara Nazarian, PhD, Center for Advanced Orthopaedic Studies, 330 Brookline Ave, RN115, Boston, MA 02215 (anazaria@bidmc.harvard.edu).

Accepted for Publication: November 5, 2018.

Published Online: May 1, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2019.1050

Author Contributions: The principal investigator Dr Nazarian and the first author Dr Mortensen had full access to all the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Drs Mortensen and Mohamadi and Ms Vora contributed equally to the work as first authors. Drs Wixted, Rutkove and Nazarian contributed equally as senior authors.

Concept and design: Mortensen, Vora, Mohamadi, Hanna, Lechtig, Egan, Williamson, Wixted, Rutkove, Nazarian.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Mortensen, Vora, Mohamadi, Wright, Egan, Nazarian.

Drafting of the manuscript: Mortensen, Vora, Mohamadi, Wright, Lechtig, Williamson, Rutkove, Nazarian.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Mortensen, Mohamadi, Wright, Hanna, Lechtig, Egan, Wixted, Rutkove, Nazarian.

Statistical analysis: Mortensen, Vora, Mohamadi.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Mohamadi, Lechtig, Egan, Williamson, Wixted, Rutkove.

Supervision: Mortensen, Hanna, Rutkove, Nazarian.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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