I’ve been having some minor physical problems the last year or two. Until then, I had been a fairly avid (and not half-bad, I think) tennis player. But I began to have pain in my legs, and the pain became more frequent, until I finally just had to leave the court. I saw a few doctors and it turns out that I have chronic exertional compartment syndrome, and though PT helped a few years ago, when I tried that again earlier this year, the pain actually became worse.
At first, the doctor (let’s call him Dr. Paul) told me that there was a surgery that could be performed, but he added that this was an option usually reserved for runners, “…and you’re not a runner.” he said. Seriously, he actually said that, and it reminded me of this bit from Louis C.K.:
But the thing was, maybe I could be a runner, if I didn’t have debilitating pain in my leg every time I run. And when I look back on my past experiences with trying to be a runner, like that time I tried Couch to 5k, it sure seems like perhaps I may have had this problem for a lot longer than I’ve had the actual diagnosis. What I had once assumed were just shin splints were probably the early onset of the chronic compartment syndrome.
But any way, I ended up seeing another doctor, Dr. Jim, because Dr. Paul didn’t actually perform the surgery, and Dr. Jim is the only one in their practice who does. Dr. Jim sent me to another doctor in a different practice, Dr. Brad, who is the only doctor in my area who actually performs the test for chronic compartment syndrome. And that was really fun, because Dr. Brad stuck a needle into my shins and calves in like eight different places to test the muscle pressure on a little calculator he held in his hand. Then (without the needle) he sent me upstairs to run on a treadmill for as long as I could before the pain made me stop. This turned out to be a little longer than six minutes. At that point, the nurse rushed me back down to Dr. Brad’s exam room, where he stuck the needle in again (in as quick a sequence as he could) to measure the pressure after exercise. It turned out that there was a significant increase, so the diagnosis was (I guess) confirmed.
Dr. Jim was very eager to do the surgery, despite whatever running I may or may not plan to do in the future. But I didn’t really have a great rapport with Dr. Jim, (who basically told me only that they do it in a surgery center, not a hospital; I would have some bruising, two-inch scars on both legs, and I wouldn’t be able to drive for two weeks) so I decided to try a sports medicine guy at a much more respected health institution (Dr. Cool) for a second (or third, I guess) opinion and also to see how he did his surgeries. Dr. Cool confirmed the diagnosis, BUT he explained that the surgery doesn’t always work, nor is it any kind of quick-fix for the problem. In fact, his own college-age daughter had had the surgery, but it took FIVE YEARS before she was able to run another 5K, and that’s a long time to be on the couch.
Plus, he said, “I’m not going to tell you not to walk or drive for two weeks after the surgery, but I will say realistically that when you get up from your bed to go to the bathroom, the pain will be so bad you will feel like you’ll pass out.”
So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to sign up for all that.
Instead I turned to alternative therapy, after someone suggested myofascial release. I went looking for someone who does it, which wasn’t easy to find, though a chiropractor friend said she did have someone in her office who practiced it, and offered to speak to her about it on my behalf. About a week later, she said that her colleague didn’t think I was a candidate for therapy because it would be too intense, and might then cause more damage than was already there. She did, however, recommend kinesio tape to help loosen things up, and that’s been really helpful. Whenever I feel like the muscle is tight, I just put on a few strips of the tape, usually for the day, go about my business, and then it feels better. Overall there’s less soreness and more mobility.
Which brings me to the yoga (long story short — too late!)
I signed up for a Brand New Beginner course at a local studio, thinking it would help to stretch the muscles in a low-impact kind of way. It seems like it’s going to be great — eight sessions, everything explained in detail, just the kind of pace I need at the moment.
For the first class, I arrived early. I had planned on getting there early in case there was any paperwork to fill out, but it turned out that because I am an idiot when it comes to time, I actually got there 45 minutes early instead of the 15 I had planned for. The receptionist was very nice; she’s like this super-cool older (older than I) lady that you can just tell — nothing gets by her notice and she handles it all with the same monotone interest. Kind of like Roz in Monster’s Inc. (Turned out, I didn’t have any more paperwork.)
So, since I was alone and had some time, Roz offered to give me a tour of the studio; here are the lockers, the showers etc. And then, she pointed to a room where I could tell there was a lot of activity going on.
“That’s the aerobic-yoga cross class,” she said, “You could take it any time you want. You’ll love it.” And then she left me in the lounge right outside the room, where I stretched out and started leafing through a stack of O Magazine issues.
“Get your kettlebells!” called the trainer lady from the room. I imagined a room full of people swinging their kettlebells like they were all going for the bronze in hammer throw to her prompts. The music was pumping like a 90s rave; the place was shaking with the accumulated movement of the people in the room. I turned a page to see how Gayle King was handling the purge and organization of her enormous and very cluttered closet. (Who needs that many purses? How many shades of blue shoes can you wear?)
All of a sudden, the door flew open, and a guy just stood there in its frame with an empty water bottle in his hand. He was just DRIPPING with sweat. He was, no exaggeration, built like Dwayne Johnson. I mean, HUGE, sinewy muscles, wearing an itty bitty hanky of a black tank top that clung to his dampened pecs like tissue, the kind of guy you’d see in a GNC ad, and he was breathing so heavily, in such a labored fashion, that for a brief moment, I thought he was just going to fall forward on his face like something in a Warner Brothers cartoon.
He made his way over to the water fountain to refill his bottle, but his breathing never slowed, was never steady, never inaudible. He could not retrieve enough oxygen for what this class was taking from him.
That class? Roz thinks I would love that class? What had I ever done to Roz? Why would she want to kill me? Needless to say, I don’t think I will be taking that class any time soon, and by soon, I mean before Kanye West is POTUS.
Anyway, I’m going to stick with my nice quiet yoga class for now. Two classes in, and it’s been pretty good. I do feel like it’s going to be helpful, if not for the compartment syndrome, at least just in general. I’m never going to be the poster girl for lululemon, but hey, it’s worth a shot.