Acute limb compartment syndrome: new tool for emergency nurses

A new tool has been developed to help nurses on emergency wards identify quicker the signs of acute limb compartment syndrome (ALCS).

Emergency nurses will be able to better identify the signs of acute limb compartment syndrome (ALCS) thanks to a new early warning tool from the RCN.

Acute limb compartment syndrome
A new tool has been developed to help nurses identify acute limb compartment syndrome.
Picture: iStock

The guidance – from the College's Society of Orthopaedic and Trauma Nursing – contains a checklist of symptoms and information on how to properly assess a limb.

ALCS results from increased pressure in a muscle with little or no capacity for tissue expansion, such as legs and forearms.

Treatment variations

RCN professional lead for acute, emergency and critical care Anna Crossley said: ‘Previously there has been little evidence-based guidance on ALCS and as a result treatment across the UK varies.

‘Emergency departments are where people come having just sustained an injury and may return to if problems occur following treatment.

‘It’s very much an orthopaedic emergency which, if left unidentified, can lead to a chronic problem involving necrosis, neurological deficit and potentially amputation.

‘The most common sign is patients experiencing pain out of proportion to the injury and much of what is in the easy and quick-to-use guidance builds on what nurses should be checking for anyway.’

Free access

The tool has been piloted by nurses across the UK and is now freely available to all clinicians from the RCN website.

It is part of a three-year peripheral vascular project supported by the Princess Grace Hospital.

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