Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Compartment test tomorrow

Tomorrow, I'll work for a few hours and then head home to get my running clothes on, take some Tylenol, and head out to get my calves tested for compartment syndrome.  I'm not sure how long the test will last, but I have to arrive 15 minutes early to the appointment, run for 15 minutes, and have measurements taken 1 and 5 minutes post exercise.

I found a great blog:, detailing another young person's experience with compartment syndrome, the test, alternate treatments, and eventually surgery.  And by "I found," I mean, "My mom is also panicking and she found."

So that's fun.

Because I was sick all weekend (FUN TIMES, folks--missed one of my friends running the marathon because I couldn't get out of bed), I didn't try to go running until last night.  I was worried that waiting until yesterday would decrease the chances that my symptoms would be induced on Thursday, but even then, I was considering postponing the test so I wouldn't have to run with such a bad cold.  Typically, if I don't run for a couple weeks, my first run after that break is fantastic.  One time, I ran 3 miles, something I'd never accomplished before.*  My symptoms don't usually kick in until the second or third run after a break, giving me a false sense of security followed by a huge let-down.

In fact, that was the only pattern that stuck.  Being an obsessively self-diagnosing scientist, I tested plenty of other variables, such as how fast I was running, how much I had eaten that day, what I had eaten that day, if I was running any differently than I had before, or if I was running any differently than other people (the last one probably made other people uncomfortable, sorry!  Didn't mean to stare at you so creepily!).  The only thing that was consistent was that two or three runs after a break, the pain returned, worse every time I ran until I took another break for a week or two.

That's one of the reasons why the podiatrist I saw is convinced I have compartment syndrome.  When I don't run, my calves don't expand (and they atrophy a bit), and the symptoms subside.  After each run, I increase the space that my calves take up, eventually hitting the limit.

I haven't run since my appointment with my doctor a month ago, when she thought I was straining my muscles (which didn't explain why I almost blacked out a couple of times).  I have been using the elliptical on a regular basis since that appointment, since I don't want to waste my gym membership.  So, unlike most of the instances where I've stopped running because of the pain, I didn't stop exercising.

And I think that's why my symptoms kicked in after only 4 minutes of running last night.  Like I said, I don't usually have symptoms on a first run after a break.  Ever.  It takes another run at least, if not more.  If I had symptoms every time, I wouldn't need to go running this week to prepare for the appointment.  So that's a first.

I mean, it's pretty obvious that the elliptical is still maintaining my symptoms, if not inducing them outright.  To me, that's an indication that "Just use the elliptical, don't bother with surgery" would be a stupid pseudo-solution to this problem.  Not that the elliptical is a terrible thing.  I just hate using it.  It's a great piece of equipment, you get a great work-out, and clearly it's great for folks like me who need low-impact stuff.  But I hate it!  I want to run, damnit.

So, at least I don't have to run tonight and make this cold any worse.  Tomorrow's the big day!

* I basically suffer from this incredible problem where I absolutely do not look like I'm in shape.  Not only do I look like I'm not in shape in terms of what my body looks like, but because of my calf pain, I often look like I'm not capable of running a mile.  But when I have no calf pain, I can rather easily run a 5K!  Of course, one of the results of this discrepancy is that folks seem to think I'm running for weight loss, and therefore don't understand why I would put myself through surgery instead of just sticking with the elliptical.  I'm supposed to be a runner; it's in my blood and, if I believed in souls, it would be there, too.  I'm mostly disappointed I didn't discover this passion until so late in life.  If I'm always going to be a fat runner, that's fine!  Means I don't have to throw out my wardrobe.  But I'm not giving up something I love just because there are other ways to be skinny.  Skinny is irrelevant.  Running isn't.


  1. Hey, I just wanted to say how helpful your blog has been to me--I went to an orthopedic doc today in Boston to figure out my long and ever-so-frustrating history of calf and shin muscle pain that starts up once I'm about a mile into my runs. Experienced it all through college cross country, and it was a part of the reason that I stopped after junior year. A lot of the symptoms I've read in your blog align closely with what I'm experiencing, too. Not as much the blacking out part, but a lot of the other stuff such as the tightness and pressure.

    I am also in my early 20's and have had this problem for a long time now. Sometimes that pain isn't terrible and I can bear it..which makes me think if it IS compartment syndrome that surgery is extreme....and other parts of me think it is CS on the days the pain stops me in my tracks, and I would do anything to make it better because I love to run so much.

    The MD seems to think everything follows with compartment syndrome. I have my MRI next week, then possibly that awful needle test that I read about in one of your other blog posts that sounds like something I'd have nightmares about the night before. I'm hoping it isn't CS, but also really need answers and for docs to stop saying it's shin splints when it clearly isn't cured by taking time off from running, stretching, or icing it. Hoping for answers!

    Have your scars been really bad and what has your experience been like running since after the surgery? How long did it take to recover? Thanks.

    1. That sounds really terrible! It turns out that the blacking out symptoms I experienced weren't really ... a thing? I still maintain that it was because I was losing circulation, since I have a very high threshold for pain, but my surgeon said the only explanation for it was that I was passing out from pain. Agree to disagree on that one.

      The needle test was not nearly as painful as I feared; it mostly was just uncomfortable, but by the next day, I felt fine. It wasn't half as painful as CS pain, and it doesn't even come close to my most painful experience ever (IUD insertion). It helps that the doctor is able to give you the results right away while you're icing and recovering. I don't exactly recommend the test, but it's relatively quick and easy, and it gives answers.

      My scars weren't so great right after surgery. Three of them were fine, but one of my incisions had a huge bruise that ended up blistering. It just meant that my skin took longer to recover, and the scar is pretty funky looking; it didn't interfere with physical therapy or running. My other three scars are barely noticeable, and although I still go bare-legged all the time, no one seems to notice them, not even the bad scar.

      I haven't been running a lot since surgery; I started graduate school soon after I recovered, and I've been struggling with a flare-up of chronic inflammation. What little running I've done has been much easier than it was when I had CS! Recovery does take a while; 4 months or so after surgery, I was still dealing with some pretty noticeable calf swelling. It's been over a year now, and I don't have any more swelling. I do a lot more stretching before and after I run (before I run, I like to use a heating pad on my calves, to make stretching easier), and I also try to ice after longer runs.

      If you have both legs done, expect to take 2 weeks off work/school (I might have been able to do 1, but it would have been HARD); it's recommended that you do one leg first, and then the other a month later. Recovery took a while, since I was on my feet a lot as a grad student, and because I can't take ibuprofen to reduce swelling. By about 3 months, I was doing short runs, and by 5 months, heels stopped being a horrible idea. It was worth it, but it's surgery, so it's pretty rough.