DEAR DR. DONOHUE: After a five-year rest, I started running again. A week after I started, I developed the most unbelievable pain in my lower legs. I thought I had shinsplints, and they would go away. The pain didn’t go, so I saw a doctor who made the diagnosis of compartmental syndrome, something new to me. He said if the pain lasted much longer I would need surgery. Surgery? What kind of surgery? Please explain this. – W.W.

ANSWER:
Tough tissue wraps around the muscles of the lower legs. It separates the muscles into distinct compartments. The whole affair looks a bit like sausages.

Exercise inflames muscles. Part of the inflammation is swelling. If the swelling is massive, muscles and blood vessels are compressed within their compartment. Blood can’t get through to the muscles. Pain is one result. Lack of a blood supply also threatens muscle health.

Rest and anti-inflammatory drugs like Aleve or Advil usually take care of the inflammation and swelling. If the swelling doesn’t go down, a surgeon has to incise the muscles’ casing to permit expansion and resumption of blood flow. That’s the surgery that was talked about.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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