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Compartment Syndrome: It Came, but It Didn’t Win (Part 1)

Being an athlete, my body had taken some serious wear and tear. Once I entered college, it was taken to a whole different level. By playing basketball and being a physical education major, I was quite active. Not to mention I also played intramural softball for a bit.  There was a lot of walking involved as well.  I mean a lot!

My legs started getting to the point where they would go completely numb. This was after the extreme pain shooting down both legs. My calves would be hard as rocks. I was dealing with this during any and all activities including basketball, conditioning, walking, to and from destinations and activities in my classes. I was receiving every type of treatment possible daily. At times, it was more than once a day. I kept being told it was shin splints. Therefore, that is what I was being treated for.

Things only kept getting worse. How can you function when you have no feeling in your legs? How am I still expected to run up and down the basketball court and play period?  During this time, I was still in close contact with my high school basketball coach. I kept her up to date on everything that was going on. One day, we spoke on the phone. She says, “Dee, I read an article, and it’s exactly what is wrong with you.”  She went on to tell me about an article in a magazine about compartment syndrome and told me to get it to my orthopaedic doctor. I did exactly as I was told.

Low and behold, after testing, compartment syndrome was my diagnosis.  I was told I had to have surgery called a fasciotomy. First, let’s learn the definition of compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome is when you have an excessive amount of pressure that has built up inside a muscle space in your body. This disrupts the blood flow to tissues and can cause permanent damage if not treated. It can arise due to an accident, burns, vigorous exercise, or any injury that involves extensive pressure from bleeding.

There are two forms of compartment syndrome: acute and chronic. Acute is the most common. Some of the symptoms of acute compartment syndrome are: pain that seems greater than expected for the severity of the injury; numbness, pins-and-needles or electricity-like pain in the limb; and swelling, tightness, and bruising.  Chronic compartment syndrome is also called exertional compartment syndrome. It tends to be confused with shin splints because of the similarity in feeling. Symptoms include worsening aching or cramping in the affected muscle within a half hour of beginning exercise.

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