Physical Therapy for Compartment Syndrome: My Story

So I received an email from a friend doing a project on Compartment Syndrome. She is majoring in Physical Therapy and wanted to ask me a few questions. I thought I would post the questions and my responses on the blog for you all to read. A lot of the questions are things I’ve never even talked about and well…they are pretty interesting!

Did they have you do Pre-surgery physical therapy to strengthen your legs?

I didn’t have any pre surgery physical therapy. I just saw the orthopedic surgeon, he had a pretty good idea it was Compartment Syndrome so I went in to have the pressure test done. The put needles into each compartment to test the pressure and then took them out. I then ran on the treadmill until my pain was at it’s highest point and they immediately put me on the table and put the needles into each compartment again to measure the pressure. The pressure in my compartments were so drastically high and different than the starting pressure that we knew right then I did have it and that I had to have surgery which was the only way to make it better. Nothing with physical therapy could’ve made my legs better because it was already so extreme. I was told if I kept running I would get permanent nerve damage in my legs which would make me paralyzed.


How many weeks did they have you on rest after your surgery?

I had my surgery February 18th, 2009 and I started physical therapy on February 23rd. I was told it would take about 8 weeks to recover. So I was resting until that point.


Did you go to physical therapy after your surgery/and then rest? If so, Do you remember what exercises they had you do? (example toe taps, leg circles)

Yup, I actually logged about my physical therapy. This is what I have down for the first day “The PT showed me how to wrap my legs to help the swelling go down in my ankles, or should i say “cankles”
We did a bunch of exercises such as: pulling my feet towards me with a towel, bending my knees by sliding my feet toward me, rotating my feet in and out, side to side, forward and back, then some quad stretches(not sure why, my quads are fine, but it was an opportunity to show off my massive muscles ha), then some leg lifts. I think that’s basically the majority of what today consisted of. I have therapy 3 times a week. Monday, thursday and friday at 5:15.”

On the 26th I wrote ” We hardly did any of the exercises. I had to move my feet forward and back, side to side, circles. My feet still don’t do circles, my ankles and feet are kind of paralyzed I guess you could say. The nerves are disrupted to where I send messages down to my feet to have them do these things but only my toes move haha. I can’t wait to get my motions and movement back.
My PT pushed on my feet in different directions to stretch me. It hurt but made me feel a little better afterwards. I know it will be worth the pain in the long run. No pun intended! hahah”

Then I didn’t log anything else but I do remember some more exercises we did. I stood on the bosu ball and did squats on it with the ball part on the ground and standing on the flat part. I also did leg presses on the machine. Another exercise I did was stand on one foot and throw a ball at the trampoline and catch it, did that for each leg. I did the fun slide board back and forth. I also did some biking on the stationary bike. Basically we were working on getting my ankles to work for the longest part since I had to regain how to use them and get the signals from my brain to my ankles. That was the hardest part. After that we worked on strengthening my legs.

Tuesday the 3rd of march I walked all day without using my crutches. The 8th I was finally able to drive.

the 12th I jogged a half mile on the track. The 13th I did 2.5 miles (.5 on the track and then ran to rock creek and back). 14th I did a mile. The 23rd we had a track workout and I ran 1.75 miles. The 24th I ran 2.5 miles and then the 26th was my last day of therapy.

The 3rd of April I went to the doctor he was all “alright, let me get you the jogging workouts to help put you back into running” and I said “uhh…i’ve already been running”
I’ve never seen a shocked face as shocked as his. Basically he was expecting me to start week one of this jogging/running workout and I’m already on week seven.


How long did it take you go regain full recovery? (as in you could run easily again)

It was easy for me to run in April after seeing the doctor. I was on regular running again with the team but I would honestly say that I didn’t feel 100% perfect until a complete year later. I finally regained my speed and fitness level to be prime again about a year later.


Were you given advice on how to help prevent compartment syndrome?

I wasn’t given any specific advice, just told to rub the scars to break up the scar tissue.


Do you know if you are more likely to get it again because you have already had it? I couldn’t find any research on it so I wasn’t sure if your doctor or PT had said anything to you about it.

That was the big question we asked before I had my surgery, if it could happen again. We were told that the surgery may or may not make things better. He told us about a kid who just had it and it didn’t help, another one where it took the pain down a bit and then another that it was 100% better. For me I was 100% better and don’t have pain in my compartments. We were told the compartments around my muscles can grow back and that I could experience it again, but it’s a case by case situation.


Hope you enjoyed!