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Steven M. Lee, PC

Q:
What is compartment syndrome and how does it affect maritime employees?

A:

If you live in Texas, especially southern Texas, you probably know at least one person who works on the water. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that you make your living from the water. There’s also a pretty good chance that you already know that maritime jobs aren’t exactly the safest jobs around. However, despite their risks, these professions are the backbone of the state’s economy. As a result, Texas employs nearly 40,000 domestic maritime workers—and all of them are at risk for serious workplace injuries.

Common dangers like fires and falls are easily identifiable and can have the potential to be addressed fairly quickly. However, internal injuries are harder to spot, and even harder to treat. One such injury that is alarmingly common among mariners is a muscle and blood disorder known as compartment syndrome.

Compartment Syndrome

Compartment syndrome (CS) is a condition that affects circulation and blood flow to particular parts in the body as a result of built-up pressure in your muscles. The condition occurs as the by-product of three factors: over-exertion of muscle function, blood flow, and pressure.

  • Muscle function. When you move, your muscles generate heat and burn off the oxygen and nutrients supplied by your blood. To compensate for this loss, your heart pumps blood harder and faster to rush replacement oxygen to the depleted muscles. This extra blood causes your muscles to expand. Have you ever noticed how your muscles seem larger after you work out? This circulation process is the cause.
  • Blood flow. Unfortunately, in certain situations, the rush of blood and increased circulation can affect the connective tissue, or fascia, that surrounds your muscles and organs. Fascia doesn’t expand as easily or as quickly as muscle. The blood can get trapped.
  • Pressure. When your muscles swell, pressure can build up in the compartment between the muscle and fascia. As the confined pressure grows, it can cause a ballooning effect that presses or squeezes your muscles and nerves, cutting off blood supply to the areas. This reactions is what is known as compartment syndrome (CS).

If not treated, compartment syndrome can cause pain, swelling, immobility in the affected muscles (often legs or arms), and eventually cell death. As the pressure increases, the more it impedes the body’s efforts to relieve it. Therefore, extreme cases may require surgery or amputation to relieve the pressure and restore proper blood flow as well as alleviate pain and halt the progression of gangrene (cell decomposition).

Pressure Effects of Maritime Work

Compartment syndrome doesn’t just affect maritime workers; in fact, it affects hundreds of people a year as a result of excessive exercise and blood pooling after physical injuries. However, mariners are often exposed to activities and injuries that place them at higher risk for compartment syndrome. These risks include:

  • Crush injuries. Dealing with heavy materials day in and day out increases your chance for a crush injury, which in turn increases the chance of your blood flow becoming disrupted and compartmentalized.
  • Burns. The large amount of flammable materials on maritime vessels increases the possibility of burns. Burns increase the risk of tissue and muscle damage, which increases the chance of CS.
  • Temperature changes. Weather can change quickly on the water and a decrease in body temperature can cause blood to rush to protect organs. This change in blood flow can cause increased risk for CS.
  • Overexertion. Your daily work duties put a lot of strain on your muscles—and overexertion is a leading cause of compartment syndrome.

Protecting Yourself Both Physically and Financially

When you’re injured as a result of a maritime accident—no matter how minor you think the injury may be—you must seek medical attention right away. Although treatment may be limited due to your location, injuries can worsen quickly and lead to debilitating conditions that can not only affect your health but also your finances.

For more information on maritime injuries, pursuing injury claims, or maritime law options, give us a call or click our convenient contact form to set up a FREE consultation. We’re eager to help relieve some of the pressure that comes with filing a maritime injury claim. Don’t allow your employer or his insurance company to restrain you with confusing jargon and trade tricks—break free with attorney Steve Lee.

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