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 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.
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.
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.