This study compared the quantitative and qualitative results of leg thallium-201 single-photon emission tomography (SPET) imaging in patients with and without raised intracompartmental pressure associated with exercise-related leg pain. The purpose of this study was to clarify the aetiology of chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS), and to investigate the diagnostic applications of 201Tl SPET in CECS. Thirty-four study participants underwent compartment pressure testing (CPT) between March and August 2000. There were 25 positive CPT results (patient group), and nine negative CPT results (control group). All 34 participants underwent scintigraphy. Quantitative and qualitative assessments were performed for the anterolateral and deep posterior compartments of the lower leg. There was no significant difference in either quantitative or qualitative assessments of perfusion between those compartments with and those without CECS. In contrast, a marked effect of exercise type upon compartment perfusion pattern was noted. Results of this study indicate that there is no compartment perfusion deficit in those patients with raised intracompartmental pressure associated with CECS, and suggest a non-ischaemic basis for the pain associated with CECS. They also suggest no role for exercise perfusion scintigraphy in the diagnosis of this syndrome.