I have had symptoms of compartment syndrome since my teens. I was a runner then, and every time I went on a run, my calves would tighten and sometimes go numb along with pain in my feet and Achilles. This pain would lessen when I stopped running or sometimes when I slowed down. I have noticed that it is also worse on pavement. If I start out slower, the cramping or tightening wouldn’t be as sever. I didn’t know what it was, and it didn’t cause as much pain as my shin splints, so we let it go. The PE teachers always told me I just needed to stretch more before I ran. So that is what I did, when I remembered. It helped, some.
Fast forward almost 30 years, I still have the problem, but now I know what it is. I was having problems with my toes going numb and my legs were giving me problems. I was sent to a back doctor to rule out back problems. It did, and it didn’t. But the numbness in my feet was not caused by my back. I was given the electric nerve test to see what was causing my problems. It turns out that I have chronic compartment syndrome, which was not causing the numbness at the time but had in the past. Now I had a name for some of my problems, but not really a solution. We were focusing on the actual back problems.
I could hike all day without the compartments swelling, so it was no big deal. And it still isn’t, for the most part. I can do most things I regularly do without problems, but today, I went for a walk at the park. Right away I was having difficulty walking. I went less than a quarter mile on the paved path and began limping because of the pain. My gate changed drastically. I pushed through. My right leg will subside as I continue to walk, but the left gets to a point of pain in the foot and stays there until I stop walking or running. This pain goes away fairly quickly, but tomorrow morning, I will feel like I had Charlie Horses in my calves.
Compartment syndrome is when the muscles, nerves, and blood vessels swell tightly against the fascia (a covering or lining for these groups in the legs and arms). The fascia does not stretch, which causes pressure to build and start to cut off circulation. In chronic conditions, it is not an emergency, but for acute conditions, it is. I have chronic which is caused by exercise. There really isn’t much to do for the chronic condition, and that is why we didn’t focus on it. I don’t have the problem often enough to cause a concern. If it develops more, I could go to the physical therapist for instruction, use anti-inflammatories, or ultimately have surgery that opens the fascia (Orthoinfo). I have a relative who has had this done, and I don’t think that it is something I would want to do. But then again, it doesn’t cause me problems most of the time.
I will just try to remember to stretch before I walk at the park or on a road and to start slower. My pace usually isn’t super fast, but when I’m on flat ground and alone, I do go faster than normal.