BACKGROUND : Acute compartment syndrome (ACS) is characterised by abnormal pressure inside a compartment, resulting in ischemia of muscles and nerves. Most orthopaedic surgeons, especially those who work in major trauma centres, have been or will be facing a case of ACS in their clinical activity. Fortunately, complications related to untreated compartment syndrome have become less frequent thanks to a better understanding of pathogenesis and to early recognition and prompt surgical treatment. The aim of this study is to identify the existing evidence regarding aetiology of trauma-related ACS of the leg. METHODS : A systematic review of the literature was undertaken using PubMed Medline, Ovid Medline and the Cochrane library, extended by a manual search of bibliographies. Retrieved articles were eligible for inclusion if they reported data about aetiology of trauma-related compartment syndrome of the tibia. RESULTS : Ninety-five studies that fulfilled the inclusion criteria were identified. By dividing the studies into three groups according to the traumatic aetiology, we were able to classify traumatic ACS as fracture related, soft tissue injury related and vascular injury related. Fracture related was the most represented group, comprising 58 papers, followed by the soft tissue injury related group which includes 44 articles and vascular injury related group with 24 papers. CONCLUSIONS : Although traditionally ACS has been associated mainly with fractures of tibial diaphysis, literature demonstrates that other localisations, in particular in the proximal tibia, are associated with an increased incidence of this serious condition. The forms of ACS secondary to soft tissues injuries represent an extremely variable spectrum of lesions with an insidious tendency for late diagnosis and consequently negative outcomes. In the case of vascular injury, ACS should always be carefully considered as a priority, given the high incidence reported in the literature, as a result of primitive vascular damage or as a result of revascularisation of the limb. Knowledge of aetiology of this serious condition allows us to stratify the risk by identifying a population of patients most at risk, together with the most frequently associated traumatic injuries.