Personal Story | What is Compartment Syndrome?



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If you are friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram, you probably saw that I had surgery on my legs this week. It’s not something I really mentioned or blogged about like I did with my endometriosis surgery earlier in the year. Honestly, I was kind of embarrassed that I would be laid up yet again and asking for help yet again. I didn’t want people to think, “Oh there’s Mandi yet again having something else done. She’s always got something wrong with her” or think me some big hypochondriac. I know, it’s silly. I also didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I also didn’t realize how much pain I would be in still.

But here I am almost four days post-op and laid up in bed in a lot of pain. Today is the best day I’ve had to far, so hopefully I’m on the uphill of my pain management. I’ve gotten a lot of help so far and have said yes to even more help. I didn’t ask for a meal calendar to be made mainly because I have already had so many people graciously bring me food twice in the last year after adopting Abigail and after my endometriosis surgery; but despite no calendar being set up, I have had someone bring us food over every day since my surgery and I have a few more meals lined up for the rest of this week and next. I am truly humbled and grateful to all who have reached out and offered.

So what did I have surgery on? Both of my legs have a chronic condition called compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome is a painful condition that occurs when pressure within the muscles builds. This pressure can decrease blood flow, which prevents nourishment and oxygen from reaching nerve and muscle cells. Compartments are groupings of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in your arms and legs. Covering these tissues is a tough membrane called a fascia. The role of the fascia is to keep the tissues in place, and, therefore, the fascia does not stretch or expand easily.

There are two types of compartment syndrome: acute and chronic. Acute is caused by an accident: sports injury, car accident, etc; this is a medical emergency that HAS to be taken care of right away or the patient could lose a limb. A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law’s brother had acute compartment syndrome after getting kicked in the leg at a soccer game. He had to have emergency surgery to release the pressure built up in his leg. It was a long process of many surgeries to get his leg back to normal.

I have chronic compartment syndrome as well as a facial hernia around my ankles and up the sides of my legs. This type is something that is mostly caused by athletic exertion. I remember the first time it bothered me was in elementary school when I was running track. The pressure built up so much in my legs and ankles that I had to quit the race. Over the years, I learned how to adjust my stride and step and wear certain running shoes to cause the compartment syndrome to not bother me too much. As I’ve gotten older, the pain has gotten worse. Things that only mildly bothered me or weren’t issues are now daily ones. I could work around it in my running by adjusting my steps and stride, but even that doesn’t help anymore. I find it bothers me most when moving my foot up and down at a sharp angle like when I am walking up hills, wearing high heels, or moving my foot on the gas petal for example.

My symptoms include my toes falling asleep, swelling and bulging at the place of the hernia, my calves becoming rock hard and painful, and pain shooting up and down my legs. Compartment syndrome develops when swelling or bleeding occurs within a compartment. Because the fascia does not stretch, this can cause increased pressure on the capillaries, nerves, and muscles in the compartment. Blood flow to muscle and nerve cells is disrupted. Without a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients, nerve and muscle cells can be damaged. More recently, it has gotten worse to the point where I can’t run and find it painful to walk even just around the neighborhood. Driving is painful to my right leg. I finally made a decision that with it impacting my daily routine and not just sports related, that I needed to do something about it.

The surgery I had is called a compartment release. Basically the operation is designed to open the fascia so that there is more room for the muscles to swell. This gives my muscles the room they need to expand and contract while I am doing activities. The doctor did releases on the interior and exterior of both of my legs. I have incisions in my legs 2-4 inches up as well as smaller ones up closer to my knees. I haven’t seen them yet as they are covered up with bandages, but I’ll how much like Frankestein I will look like once the dressings and bandages come off.

I had surgery on Tuesday and haven’t gotten out of bed except to use the restroom; and even going the 12 feet from my bed to the restroom is super painful. I knew I would be hurting, but I had some kind of unrealistic expectation on how much pain I would be in. I thought because it was an outpatient surgery and I’d be home the same day that it wouldn’t be THAT bad, but when I think about all they did in there cutting and stitching, of course I should be in a lot of pain. I have four long incisions and two or three smaller ones on my legs. Of course that’s going to hurt! My endometriosis recovery was much easier than this surprisingly!

I don’t have any weddings in September, which is why I went ahead and decided to do it now. I can recover and rest and get back to my feet with time to work my weddings in October, November, and December. I have been blessed to have my mom here to help with the kiddos. I made a ton of meals ahead of time and have had offers from a lot of people to bring us food as well, so I am taking advantage of everyone’s wonderful kindness. I am supposed to be out of commission for 2-3 weeks. I’m taking it easy and letting my legs rest and recover and hopefully if I do that, they will heal well and I’ll be back on my feet in no time. At least laying in bed for this long gives me a chance to do lots of photography stuff like blog, watch online courses, and edit! Thanks for all of the text messages and prayers. I have definitely felt them! You all rock!


  1. Carolyn Hebel says:

    Oh Mandi, my thoughts and prayers go out to you!!! I loved reading your story, but am so sorry to hear you are dealing with this condition. I appreciate you writing about this so simply and completely. Again, I am enchanted by your writing style and clarity. This is just another gift you have from God!! I am praying for quick and complete healing for you!!! Also, prayers for your family as they deal with this as well. I am so glad your mama is there with you. My daughter, Caroline, just had our first grandchild. Preston was born 6 weeks ago and perfect!! After 4 years of surgeries, IVF worked and we are praising God!!! Philip and Mayra have moved into their first home in Roswell. Looking at photos from their 2nd wedding made me think of you and how perfectly you captured them both. I thank God you were their photograher, and now a friend!!! Stay positive and praise God fir He has a mighty plan for you!!! Fondly, Carolyn Hebel<♡

  2. tracy says:

    Oh Mandi I’m sorry to see you laid up again but hope it brings you some long term relief!! Hugs girl!

  3. Diane Mason says:

    Mandi, thanks for explaining all this. I pray you have relief and complete remission of this condition!. Diane

  4. Rose says:

    Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear you had to go through this! Once you recover you’ll be better than ever! Take it easy in the meantime 🙂

  5. George Spyros says:

    hello from Greece,
    im a fellow photographer and runner, also in CECS suffering.
    How did the recovery go?
    Are you running painfree now ?
    Best Regards.

    • mandi says:

      Hello George! I am sorry to hear you also have CECS. Unfortunately my symptoms returned about a year later. One of my legs is significantly worse than before due to doctor messing up during surgery. I think part of my issue is I probably also have PAES. If you are on Facebook, there is a very great CECS group with a lot of information. It is a US based group, but I imagine you could find some helpful information in there!

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