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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 82-86

Compartment syndrome secondary to Baker's cyst rupture: A case report and up-to-date review

1 Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology, Tepecik Training and Research Hospital, Izmir, Turkey
2 Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology, Suruc State Hospital, Sanliurfa, Turkey
3 Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology, Antalya Training and Research Hospital, Antalya, Turkey

Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Serkan Erkus
Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology, Tepecik Training and Research Hospital, Izmir
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/IJCIIS.IJCIIS_84_18

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Baker's cyst is a distention or enlargement of the gastrocnemius-semimembranosus bursa toward the popliteal fossa which is usually associated with intra-articular pathologies. Rupture or dissection of the Baker's cyst results in extravasation of the cyst content into the calf within intermuscular space under the fascia. This clinical entity, also called pseudothrombophlebitis, is a self-limited condition that usually resolves with supportive treatment. However, in patients using anticoagulants, excessive hemorrhage may cause compartment syndrome in case of cyst rupture. Early diagnosis of compartment syndrome is the most important step in preventing permanent disability. Therefore, compartment syndrome should be kept in mind and ruled out in a patient with pseudothrombophlebitis syndrome under anticoagulation therapy.

Keywords: Baker's cyst, compartment syndrome, popliteal cyst, rupture

How to cite this article:
Erkus S, Soyarslan M, Kose O, Kalenderer O. Compartment syndrome secondary to Baker's cyst rupture: A case report and up-to-date review. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci 2019;9:82-6

How to cite this URL:
Erkus S, Soyarslan M, Kose O, Kalenderer O. Compartment syndrome secondary to Baker's cyst rupture: A case report and up-to-date review. Int J Crit Illn Inj Sci [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Mar 22];9:82-6. Available from: https://www.ijciis.org/text.asp?2019/9/2/82/261465

   Introduction Top

Baker's cyst is a distention or enlargement of the gastrocnemius-semimembranosus bursa (GSB) toward popliteal fossa.[1] Communication through a capsular opening between the knee joint cavity and GSB is a common anatomic variant in a normal joint [Figure 1]. Handy reported that Baker's cyst may be found in 5%–32% of symptomatic knees in a review article.[2] In case of chronic knee effusion and increased intra-articular pressure, this anatomic connection works as a check-valve and synovial fluid flows from intra-articular space toward GSB but cannot return to synovial space. This causes gradual distention of GSB and the Baker's cyst comes out. The cyst is usually associated with chronic knee effusion secondary to various intra-articular pathologies, particularly medial meniscal tears, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory arthritis.
Figure 1: Illustration showing the Baker's cyst and its connection with synovial space

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Although Baker's cyst usually remains asymptomatic, it may produce knee pain or stiffness with a palpable lump at the posterior aspect of the knee.[1],[3],[4] However, it may cause various complications such as neurovascular entrapment owing to mass effect, infection, cyst rupture, and compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome secondary to Baker's cyst rupture is a rare complication with few published cases in the literature [Table 1]. However, this complication is a serious condition that can lead to functional impairment and even limb loss. Herein, a patient with compartment syndrome secondary to Baker's cyst rupture was presented.
Table 1: List of previously reported cases with compartment syndrome related with Baker's cyst rupture in the current literature

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   Case Report Top

A 64-year-old female was admitted to the emergency department with a swollen calf and unable to walk for 2 days. Her complaints started suddenly when sitting for a rest after walking 5 km distance. There was no antecedent trauma. Her medical history revealed bilaterally knee osteoarthritis, and she was using oral anti-inflammatory medications irregularly. Moreover, she was using Warfarin for cardiac rhythm disorder.

The patient's complaints worsened within 24 h and her calf became extremely tight and swollen. On admission, she was unable to walk due to intense pain. On physical examination, the calf was tender, warm, and swollen. There was a remarkable difference in the circumference of calf compared to the other side [Figure 2]. Passive dorsiflexion of the ankle, also known Homan's sign, was painful. The knee range of motion was slightly limited. Distal pulses were palpable, but there was hypoesthesia over posterior calf and heel with normal motor functions. All of these findings caused suspicion of compartment syndrome in this patient.
Figure 2: Clinical appearance of the patient's calves from the posterior aspect. Note the swollen left calf with the significant circumferential difference compared to the contralateral side

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Plain roentgenograms of the leg showed no bony abnormalities except for swollen soft tissue on the posterior calf [Figure 3]. Doppler ultrasonography (DUS) was negative for deep-venous thrombosis (DVT). Routine laboratory tests were all in normal, including erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein. However, prothrombin time/international normalized ratio was 2.1. The patient was hospitalized for monitoring for possible compartment syndrome, and observed with rest, elevation, and ice compression. Meanwhile, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed to exclude space-occupying entities. MRI showed the hyperintense collection in the posterior compartment and ruptured Baker's cyst [Figure 4]. Her clinical status did not improve after conservative management within 2 h. Posterior compartment pressure was measured as 40 mmHg due to the persistence of the patient's complaints after MRI. The patient's blood pressure was measured as 135/70 mmHg in simultaneous compartment measurement (ΔP = 30 mmHg). Fasciotomy was planned for the treatment.
Figure 3: Anteroposterior (a) and lateral (b) plain radiographs showing marked soft-tissue swelling

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Figure 4: T2 sequence of the calf magnetic resonance imaging. (a) Mucinous collection in the posteromedial calf. (b) The opening of the cyst from the posteromedial border of the medial femoral condyle to knee joint space. (c) Sagittal view of the left calf. (d) Coronal view of the left calf

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Fasciotomy was performed through a medial longitudinal incision because alone posterior compartment involvement is considered. The gastrocnemius fascia was incised. 450cc bloody mucinous clot was removed, and soleus fascia was released [Figure 5]. Only skin was closed with superficial sutures and two suction drains were placed. After 24 h from the operation, clinical status was dramatically improved. The microbiological examination and culture of the fluid were negative. The patient was externalized at the 2nd operative day. At 1st month, the patient returned her previous level of activity. Physical examination was totally normal, and the calf was returned to its normal circumference [Figure 6].
Figure 5: Medial longitudinal incision for posterior compartment decompression. The mucinous clot is seen within the posterior compartment

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Figure 6: Clinical appearance of the patient's calves at the first month follow-up visit

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   Discussion Top

Rupture or dissection of the Baker's cyst results in extravasations of the cyst content into the calf within intermuscular space under the fascia. Cyst rupture usually occurs suddenly, patients feel a sharp pain at the back knee. Then, the calf becomes swollen and tender. Erythema, itching, or ecchymosis around the ankle may also accompany the aforementioned clinical findings. Homan's sign is typically positive in these patients. This clinical entity is known as pseudothrombophlebitis.[1],[5],[6],[7]

Pseudothrombophlebitis may clinically simulate DVT, thrombophlebitis, rupture of the medial head of gastrocnemius muscle, and intramuscular hematoma. Therefore, these diagnoses may be mixed with each other based solely on the history and clinical findings. Further imaging studies should be performed to discriminate all. Initially, DUS should be performed to rule out DVT. Ultrasound sonography is also a proper imaging modality that has the diagnostic capability in the differential diagnosis. However, MRI provides detailed information with a better demonstration of fluid within calf fascia.[1],[8],[9]

The treatment of pseudothrombophlebitis is supportive. Rest, ice, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are usually sufficient for the recovery. However, if the cyst is copious or there is accompanying hemorrhage during the dissection, compartment pressure may increase to result with compartment syndrome. Hemorrhage is aggravated in patients using anticoagulant similar to our patient. There are two such cases reported in the literature. Petros et al. reported a ruptured Baker's cyst misdiagnosed with DVT, treated with anticoagulation creating hemorrhage and hematoma into the lower extremity compartment.[10] Wilder et al. reported another case that is on the long-term anticoagulation therapy complicated by the development of a posterior compartment syndrome.[11] Both of these cases and our case suggest that anticoagulant may cause bleeding and facilitate the formation of compartment syndrome.

The diagnosis of compartment syndrome necessitates a careful check-up and high degree of suspicion. The extremely tender calf, unexpected pain and/or pain on passive stretching, and hypoesthesia are most important clinical findings. Distal pulses may not be affected. The definitive diagnosis can be done with compartment pressure measurement. Compared to traditional measurement, it is important to obtain the delta pressure (ΔP = diastolic blood pressure minus the compartment pressure), which is thought to better reflect instant tissue perfusion. Any pressure exceeding 30 mmHg indicates compartment syndrome.[12] If the clinical findings are suggestive of compartment syndrome, compartment pressure measurement should be done immediately to confirm or exclude the diagnosis. The treatment is emergent fasciotomy of all involved compartments. The untreated compartment syndrome results with ischemia and necrosis and even total necrosis of the lower limb.

   Conclusion Top

Although Baker's cyst rupture and consequent pseudothrombophlebitis are a common clinical condition, compartment syndrome is rare. In the patient using anticoagulant, excessive hemorrhage may cause compartment syndrome in case of cyst rupture. This important clinical clue should be kept in mind and physicians should be aware of compartment syndrome which is an emergent situation. The use of anticoagulants should be particularly questioned and recorded.

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent forms. In the form the patient(s) has/have given his/her/their consent for his/her/their images and other clinical information to be reported in the journal. The patients understand that their names and initials will not be published and due efforts will be made to conceal their identity, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed.


The authors would like to thank Dr. Adil Turan for drawing the illustration in this case study.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

Yoo MJ, Yoo JS, Jang HS, Hwang CH. Baker's cyst filled with hematoma at the lower calf. Knee Surg Relat Res 2014;26:253-6.  Back to cited text no. 1
Handy JR. Popliteal cysts in adults: A review. Semin Arthritis Rheum 2001;31:108-18.  Back to cited text no. 2
Schimizzi AL, Jamali AA, Herbst KD, Pedowitz RA. Acute compartment syndrome due to ruptured Baker cyst after nonsurgical management of an anterior cruciate ligament tear: A case report. Am J Sports Med 2006;34:657-60.  Back to cited text no. 3
Hamlet M, Galanopoulos I, Mahale A, Ashwood N. Ruptured Baker's cyst with compartment syndrome: An extremely unusual complication. BMJ Case Rep 2012;2012. pii: bcr2012007901.  Back to cited text no. 4
Dunlop D, Parker PJ, Keating JF. Ruptured Baker's cyst causing posterior compartment syndrome. Injury 1997;28:561-2.  Back to cited text no. 5
Ushiyama T, Kawasaki T, Matsusue Y. Anterior tibial compartment syndrome following rupture of a popliteal cyst. Mod Rheumatol 2003;13:189-90.  Back to cited text no. 6
Moon SH, Im S, Park GY, Moon SJ, Park HJ, Choi HS, et al. Compressive neuropathy of the posterior tibial nerve at the lower calf caused by a ruptured intramuscular Baker cyst. Ann Rehabil Med 2013;37:577-81.  Back to cited text no. 7
Kim JS, Lim SH, Hong BY, Park SY. Ruptured popliteal cyst diagnosed by ultrasound before evaluation for deep vein thrombosis. Ann Rehabil Med 2014;38:843-6.  Back to cited text no. 8
Marlborough F, Venkataraman R. Lower extremity sarcoma mimicking acute compartment syndrome. JPRAS Open 2015;3:29-34.  Back to cited text no. 9
Petros DP, Hanley JF, Gilbreath P, Toon RD. Posterior compartment syndrome following ruptured Baker's cyst. Ann Rheum Dis 1990;49:944-5.  Back to cited text no. 10
Wilder M, Hegewald K, Landino T. Compartment syndrome in a patient on warfarin with a ruptured Baker's cyst. Foot Ankle Online J 2014;7:4.  Back to cited text no. 11
Cone J, Inaba K. Lower extremity compartment syndrome. Trauma Surg Acute Care Open 2017;2:1-6.  Back to cited text no. 12


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

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