News From the Doctor

Yesterday I went to the orthopedic surgeon to get a second opinion on my calves. After a couple of deep tissue massages at the physical therapist office I was feeling pretty good, but I knew I still needed to get advice from a doctor.

All along I knew there was a chance my calves were feeling good mostly because I took a week off of running and not because the scar tissue was my only issue. And I was right.

The Diagnosis 

The orthopedic surgeon says that he is 99% sure I have exertional compartment syndrome (basically my calf muscles are too big for the compartment in which they live).

The doctor did x-rays just to rule out stress fractures but he never really thought it was that.

He said the fastest way to know if I need the compartment syndrome test is to go for a run since I hadn’t been on one in about a week. He said if the massage had worked then I should be running pain free. However, if I have compartment syndrome the pressure/tightness would be present like normal.

If the symptoms reoccured then I would need to come back for an MRI just to rule out any other issues, and after that I could go get the actual compartment syndrome pressure test.

I went running last night and for the first two minutes I felt great. I actually felt like I had brand new legs. That really lifted my spirits. Unfortunately by about 3 1/2 minutes in that old feeling of tightness started creeping back into my calves. By 5 minutes in the tightness could no longer be ignored and I had to stop running.

The doctor said no matter what, DO NOT run through it. Trying to power through it could do permanent nerve damage and even result in needing emergency surgery.

It felt so bizarre to go running for five minutes before having to turn around and walk home.

Next Steps 

The next steps for me are to go back to his office and get an MRI. I’ll be calling the office today to get that scheduled for hopefully next week.

Provided the MRI comes back clean then I’ll have to go get the compartment syndrome pressure test. That involves running until the pressure builds up and then having a needle inserted into your calf to gauge how bad it is.  If it’s above a certain level then it’s almost guaranteed to be compartment syndrome and a double fasciotomy is likely in my future.

Treatment & Recovery

A fasciotomy is where the surgeon cuts open or completely removes the fascia that surrounds the calf muscle so that it has plenty of room to expand during exercise.

Ali is also being tested for exertional compartment syndrome and her doctor said recovery time is 6 to 8 weeks. My doctor said 4 to 6 weeks, so I’m guessing it’s  somewhere around 6 weeks for most people, give or take a couple weeks depending on your personal healing time.

Other than having the surgery, the only other option is to stop doing high impact exercise. The doctor said I could consider swimming or the elliptical, but that I likely wouldn’t get the same rush as I do from running. It’s not even the rush or runner’s high I would miss… it’s just, everything.

I told the doctor that not running wasn’t an option for me, so he said after we get the test results back he could do the fasciotomy on both legs in the same day to get me back out there as quickly as possible.

Feelings 

I’m completely at peace with surgery being the solution. I like knowing that after the surgery I’ll be back to running fairly quickly all things considered.

At the same time I’ve never had a surgery before and I’m pretty terrified of the idea. There are just so many unknowns involved with it. I’ll do it to get back to running pain-free though.

I am pretty surprised that I might have exertional compartment syndrome AND Ali might have it too as the condition is described as being rare. However, my doctor said it’s rare in the general population but pretty common among athletes in high impact sports.

I went to the PT yesterday after my doctor’s appointment since I was past the window in which I could cancel. Plus I do have scar tissue to break up so I might as well get that done before the surgery.

When I told my PT she said she actually has another patient who also just got diagnosed with exertional compartment syndrome. She echoed what the doctor said, that it’s rare in general but common in athletes especially ones that run a lot.

So I guess last night was probably the last run I’ll have for a while.

Is it silly that I’m sitting here fighting back tears as I type this? Running has become such a normal part of my daily life that I can’t imagine not doing it for a couple of months. It sort of feels like saying goodbye to a friend that you’re going to miss a lot. It’s actually heartbreaking. I’m being dramatic though.

If I can have the surgery in July I’ll be back to running right around the time I find out if I got into the London Marathon 2018. Getting in would be great motivation as I get back into the swing of training.

But I’m still getting ahead of myself. One step at a time.

13 comments

  1. Lisa @ Mile by Mile

    Oh wow, I sorry to hear this but Im so glad you went to the doctor! At least you will have some real answers and a plan soon. I know it will be really tough to stop running for awhile but at least you will come back without any more calf issues!
    Lisa @ Mile by Mile recently posted…Global Running Day 2017My Profile

    1. Kristina

      I agree, once I have the test results in hand and can schedule the surgery I’ll feel positive. I’m not mad about surgery being the answer, and I’m not afraid of recovery… I’m just honestly scared about having a surgery in general. It could be any kind of surgery and I would be scared!

  2. Megan @ Meg Go Run

    I’m so sorry Kristina. I know how much running means to you. It men’s so much that you are willing to have a surgery you are afraid of. It’s now weird you’re fighting back tears. I’m sad every day that I can’t run. It is interesting to hear it is common among runners. But still, you two are the only people I know who may have it!
    Megan @ Meg Go Run recently posted…Friday 5! (Summer Goals!)My Profile

    1. Kristina

      Thanks Megan! I’ve been doing a lot of Google’ing about calf issues in runners and I think more people have it and they just don’t know it.

      Some forums include people complaining with the same symptoms and either they give up running for some other form of exercise, or they just are “at peace” with having to stop and stretch frequently during a run. Unfortunately the stop-and-stretch technique may lead to other consequences down the road.

  3. Sam @ G & G Nutrition Co.

    I’m so sorry to hear this. I hope you get the definitive answers that you need to be able to move forward with whatever needs to be done to fix it! As someone who has been down for the count several times with orthopedic issues, it sucks going through it but feels good on the other end once you’ve recovered. Sending you lots of hugs!!
    Sam @ G & G Nutrition Co. recently posted…Friday Chats: Farmer’s Market, Headshots and MoreMy Profile

    1. Kristina

      Thanks Sam! It will definitely be a relief once it’s all over. To think I’ve been dealing with these escalating calf issues for about 18 months is pretty crazy!

  4. Hanna @ minimal marathoner

    Oh no! After your first visit to the PT, I was so hopeful this wasn’t it!

    But, I’m glad you got some closure. I know it sucks to not be able to run for a couple months but at least you know it’s temporary – many don’t have that luxury. And at least you know what’s wrong and that it’s going to get fixed. It won’t be an easy process I’m sure, but you’ll at least know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

    I thought you didn’t find out about London until October? Surely a July surgery will have you running before then, right?
    Hanna @ minimal marathoner recently posted…‘Twas the night before Marathon TrainingMy Profile

    1. Kristina

      Me too :/

      Hmm well I was thinking worse case scenario I don’t have the surgery until mid to end of July, which would mean I could be back to training mid-end of September.

      When I first start running again it’s going to be all very short runs. I think I’ll be ready to start training again (maybe) come October!

  5. Susan

    I am sad of your news (Ali, too) but grateful you are on your way to an official diagnosis and a treatment that does not mean giving up running. It’s totally normal to be sad and grieve. It’s a big deal and scary to think about all the steps to get you back to running. But just try to take it day by day. I promise you can do this. You are strong and you have such excellent support. I’m feeling good about you recovering and getting into the London Marathon! Keep that vision with you to get your through the hard days. I’m always here for you! Always.

    1. Kristina

      “You have such excellent support” — is this you giving yourself a pat on the back? 😀 😀 It’s true!!!! Thank you Susan, the group chat has been very helpful/insightful!

  6. Karen Bayne

    Awww man that is a lot to go through, but you are young and have lots of years to run ahead of you. I know surgery is scary, but I promise each day it gets better. I have had a few big surgeries and there are tough moments after but sleep and it will improve. That is a pep talk in case you decide you have to go that route.
    Also, I can’t remember if I told you (??) old age…but I know a guy who had the surgery and recovery took a bit but after awhile he was back to lifting and playing sports intensely!
    I am glad you are getting some answers, even if they are tough ones…at least there is a solution.
    It stink you were only able to run a few minutes before that feeling returned…sorry to hear that, I really am.

    1. Kristina

      Thanks Karen! You did mention your friend and I’m so happy to hear that. Ali has a friend who also has had the surgery and is back to running normal. I know that if the final diagnosis is compartment syndrome, having the surgery will be a blessing.

      I appreciate the pep talk and if I have to get the surgery I’m going to need a lot more of them because surgery is terrifying!!!

  7. Kevin

    Wow best of look with this!! I had never heard of exertional compartment syndrome until now.

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