DOI: 10.1097/bpo.0000000000002592 ISSN: 0271-6798

Acute Compartment Syndrome in Pediatric Patients on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Support

Callie S. Bridges, Tristen N. Taylor, Thomas Bini, Andrea M. Ontaneda, Ryan D. Coleman, Jaclyn F. Hill, Nicole I. Montgomery, Vinitha R. Shenava, Frank T. Gerow
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • General Medicine
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health


When acute compartment syndrome (ACS) occurs in pediatric patients requiring venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygen (VA ECMO) support, there is little data to guide surgeons on appropriate management. The purpose of this study is to characterize the presentation, diagnosis, timeline, and outcomes of patients who developed this complication.


This is a single-center retrospective case series of children below 19 years old on VA ECMO support who subsequently developed extremity ACS between January 2016 and December 2022. Outcomes included fasciotomy findings, amputation, mortality, and documented function at the last follow-up.


Of 343 patients on VA ECMO support, 18 (5.2%) were diagnosed with ACS a median 29 hours after starting ECMO. Initial cannulation sites included 8 femoral, 6 neck, and 4 central. Femoral artery cannulation was associated with an increased risk of ACS [odds ratio=6.0 (CI: 2.2 to 15), P<0.0001]. In the hospital, the mortality rate was 56% (10/18). Fourteen (78%) patients received fasciotomies a median of 1.2 hours after ACS diagnosis. Only 4 (29%) patients had all healthy muscles at initial fasciotomy, while 9 (64%) had poor muscular findings in at least 1 compartment. Patients with worse findings at fasciotomy had a significantly longer duration between ischemia onset and ACS diagnosis. Patients required a median of 1.5 additional procedures after fasciotomy, and only 1 (7%) developed a surgical site infection. Of the 7 surviving fasciotomy patients, 2 required amputations, 3 developed an equinus contracture, 1 developed foot drop, and 3 had no ACS-related deficits. Four patients did not receive fasciotomies: 3 were deemed too ill and later died, and 1 was diagnosed too late to benefit. The only surviving nonfasciotomy patient required bilateral amputations.


Pediatric ECMO-associated ACS is not exclusive to patients with femoral artery cannulation. The majority of fasciotomy patients were diagnosed with ACS after muscle necrosis had already started. We were unable to definitively conclude whether fasciotomies provide better outcomes. There is a need for increased awareness and earlier recognition of this rare yet potentially devastating complication.

Level of Evidence:

Level IV—retrospective case series

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