Since my own surgeries, I've been contacted by quite a few people looking for insight into CECS. I've decided to link my past posts throughout this "journey" so they are easy to find. I hope that this will be helpful for other athletes who are dealing with navigating the uncertainty and stress of this diagnosis.
I will continue to update this page as big CECS-related things happen, but I am hoping that this is now mostly in the past and I won't have any more big updates to share. [Last updated March 2018.]
Background: In 2016, my friend Elizabeth and I began training for the A1A half marathon in February 2017. We were running about four days a week. We began running bridge repeats pretty frequently, which I had done in the past with no problem at all. But one day, out of nowhere, my calves seized up and I couldn't run through it at all. This was the beginning of my CECS story.
The Symptoms Begin
November 2016: The first time my calves cramped up really badly, forcing me to walk. Weekly Workouts 11/28-12-4
December 2016: My calves continued to bother me. I wondered if it were because of volleyball, which I was coaching at the time. I also wondered if I was dehydrated from Benadryl. This was the first time I made a connection between my calf cramps during the Space Coast Marathon way back in 2014 and my current pain. Weekly Workouts 12/5-12/11
I began to try lots of recovery techniques for my calves, like icing, stretching, heat, and rest. Nothing helped. I finally faced up to the fact that I needed to take some time off running, even though we were training for a half. A Wrench in the Wheel
I took two weeks off. When I finally ran again, I felt...better. I didn't feel perfect but I really tried to convince myself that my legs felt good. Homecoming
January 2017: I experienced a few good runs, including long runs, that felt really good. By this time, we'd cut out the bridge pretty much completely and were just doing flat runs. Weekly Workouts 1/2-1/8
By late January, I was certain my calf pain was cured. I wrote a post about what I had done/was continuing to do to keep the pain at bay. How to Treat Calf Pain
Literally the next week, my calf tightness came back. It even woke me up from sleeping. Weekly Workouts 1/17-1/22
After this, I was still able to do a few runs here and there that were pain-free, but it was obvious the calf pain wasn't going anywhere without intervention. I tried wearing older shoes that I knew worked well for me, and those seemed to help for a run or two, but the pain kept coming back.
On our last long run before the half, my legs were stiff for the first 8 miles, and then finally loosened up. They weren't as bad as they had been - I was able to run through it - and honestly at this point I was just frustrated and mystified. Weekly Workouts 1/30-2/5
February 2017: The week before race day, the only solution seemed to be to stop running entirely until the race. I couldn't see a pattern to the pain and the only thing that had seemed to really make a difference for any time at all was extended rest. Weekly Workouts 2/6-2/12, The Best Laid Plans
The half marathon came and went. I struggled with heat exhaustion but my calves actually felt mostly fine. Probably because I had to walk a ton during it. I ran the Gasparilla 15k the next weekend using intervals, and though I felt okay, it was clear my calves were not normal. I thought maybe my future would entirely entail using run/walk intervals. Gasparilla Distance Classic 15k
March 2017: Elizabeth convinced me to seek medical attention for my legs. I began googling my symptoms and came across chronic exertional compartment syndrome. I am a hypochondriac so even though the diagnosis sounded right, I was sure I was over-reacting. I went into a place of denial, wanting to sign up for races and then remembering that my legs were trashed. When Your Mind and Body Don't Line Up
At this point, I stopped running. This is important because it made my diagnosis much trickier and longer than it had to be.
I saw a sports medicine doctor who did some preliminary observations and recommended an MRI to rule out bilateral tears. I was mostly unimpressed with the doctor and VERY annoyed by how much I was charged for such a useless visit. Calf Update & I Need Some Advice
My insurance company wouldn't allow the MRI without a pressure test first.
April 2017: I made an appointment to see a vascular surgeon who could do my pressure test. This was a different sort of pressure test than the compartment syndrome pressure test I'd have later. Basically, using ultrasound wands and blood-pressure cuffs, the assistant took a bunch of measurements to ensure I did not have any blood clots or vascular issues that may be causing the calf pain. When all these tests came back negative, the doctor told me I probably had compartment syndrome and that I should give up running. Calf Update: Not Very Good News
I was angry and sad and pissed off. I decided to take up running again until the pain returned and then find a doctor who wasn't such a defeatist. So, I Ran a Little, Friday Five: My Plan
May 2017: My legs began to feel clompy and painful on runs again. I felt a sense of relief because it meant the pain really existed. At least that meant it wasn't all in my head. I made my first appointment with Dr. G. Weekly Workouts 5/1-5/7, Friday Five: Pros and Cons
When I finally saw Dr. G, he was 99% sure just from my description of my symptoms and his palpitations of my calves that I had CECS. We set up a time for my compartment test. A Calf Update - Hopefully News!
June 2017: I had my pressure test late in the month. Due to not having been running, the results were inconclusive, as I feared they would be. I was told to run until the pain came back, and then call to schedule surgery. Dr. G was still sure I had CECS even though my tests didn't show it, and was willing to do the fasciotomy anyway. *tap tap* Is this Thing On?, I'm So Tired of this Topic
Surgery & Physical Therapy
July 2017: At this point, I was feeling the emotional and mental toll of seeking answers and dealing with chronic pain. Not being able to run had a bigger impact on my mind than I expected, or even than I realized until both surgeries were over and I could start to truly run again. I can see, looking at my blog entries from 2017, how down I sound. The point of this page is to recap my diagnosis and recovery process, but the mental toll needs to be addressed as it was not minor. Some Hard Truths (and Some Small Victories)
August 2017: After one particularly painful run with Matt, I sat down and started crying. I just couldn't handle being in limbo anymore. I called and set up an appointment for my surgery. Various Updates
As I mentally prepared for surgery, I reflected on why I was moving forward with it. It was an easy decision for me to make, but I understand why some people might not be sure it's worth it. Running Gave Me this Life
Then, I had my first surgery (right leg only). Surgery & Afterward
September - October 2017: I finally had my post-op and began physical therapy (after some delay due to Hurricane Irma). I was able to return to running using intervals, but my left leg was still extremely painful. Recovery Rundown
November - December 2017: I scheduled and had my second surgery (left leg) and began PT for the second time. Looking Forward
Recovery & the Future
January 2018: I finished PT, and, more than a year after my first symptoms started, I reflected on everything and began to feel the first stirrings of hope for my running future. Running Journey Part II
I began running again. I planned to run a 5k in February. Fingers Crossed
I became obsessive about post-run calf-care. Post-Run Self Care
February 2018: I began to feel...hope. Waking Up
Each milestone felt important. Hitting 3 and 4 miles was, for me, the first sign that I was truly "fixed". I Ran 3 Miles!
March 2018: I am still in a place of constant anxiety when it comes to running. It's slowly improving, but every twinge, every misstep, and every ache threatens to derail my progress and send me into a spiral of hopelessness. I truly, truly believe Dr. G fixed me, but there is always doubt and fear where injury is concerned.
So for now...that's it. I am currently chipping away at recovery and learning to run again. I'm trying to stick to a smart plan for gaining mileage again, and eventually I'll worry about speed.
To follow the journey from here forward, you can use the compartment syndrome label on my blog to find more recent relevant posts.