Popliteal Artery Entrapment Syndrome

Hey blogging world! Long time no see. I’ve decided to start blogging again to document what’s going on in my life right now. You see, this past year has been absolute hell to put it nicely. I’ve gone from being a marathoner to not being able to walk without pain.

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My feet after walking less than a mile. My right foot becomes very cold and pale because of the poor circulation.

It’s been a very long journey getting to this point. I first noticed symptoms last December, although I now realize that I had symptoms long before that. In the matter of about a week, I went from half marathon training to not being able to run for longer than 100 meters because my right calf would cramp so badly. I’m not talking about a little bit of aching. I’m talking about the feeling of trying to run with a Charlie horse. Within a matter of minutes of stopping, though, the pain would completely disappear.

At first, I thought that it was compartment syndrome again, but after repeating that fun test my pressures were normal. There were some other pretty weird symptoms going on too. My big toe is numb and sometimes I get weird tingling sensations in my foot and lower leg. Probably the weirdest one, though, was what happens when I walk. My foot loses color and starts turning a pale white. It’s pretty creepy.

I tried getting a deep tissue massage, didn’t work. I tried physical therapy, didn’t work. MRI didn’t show anything wrong. Then I was referred on to a vascular doctor and a whole new round of tests was done. Ultrasound, treadmill test, an MRA, and finally an arteriogram was done.

All the while my symptoms have been getting worse and worse. It’s now at the point where it hurts just walking. Standing for long periods of time is also painful. Even pushing down on the gas pedal when I’m driving causes my calf to cramp.

Hearing the diagnosis was absolutely shocking. The worst I was expecting was that I had compartment syndrome again and needed another fasciotomy. Instead, I found out that not only do I have popliteal artery entrapment syndrome in my right leg, but my left leg (which is relatively asymptomatic) as well. This probably explains why my right leg has never been all the way better since I had compartment syndrome. That’s probably why I couldn’t get past mile 20 in a marathon without my calf completely seizing up and why I get Raynaud’s so much worse in my right foot than my left.

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My right foot with Raynaud’s syndrome after going swimming. My left foot was a totally normal color. This picture was taken over 3 years ago.

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This is what my foot looked like after trying to do some calf raises.

I’m finally scheduled to have surgery on October 13th at the University of Maryland Medical Center. I will be having a bypass done on my right leg. Then I’ll have to wait another 2-3 months and get a muscle release done on my left leg. Even though my left leg doesn’t have many symptoms, they want to fix it earlier on to prevent needing a bypass like my right leg.

I’m looking forward to getting this surgery done so that I can get my life back. I’m a 23-year old marathoner that is in pain just walking. How wrong does that sound?! I want to get this surgery behind me and finally get on the road to recovery.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. I plan to make regular updates. I hope that sharing my story will bring a little more awareness to this weird syndrome. Maybe another “Laurel” will find this blog and be able to understand a little more of what to expect.

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16 thoughts on “Popliteal Artery Entrapment Syndrome

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I am questioning compartmental syndrome and came across your post from 4 years ago first actually.. your so young and have lots of marathon years left ahead of you to heal up and run again I hope! I have been out a couple months but MRI showed just a stress response and not in the same area as where I actually have pain.. your compartmental syndrome sounds like exactly what I am going through.. nothing has shown up anywhere but it hurts just walking still sometimes and it’s been over two months..doesn’t really make sense! How long did it take for that first diagnosis?
    I do ultra-marathons (100 milers) and havn’t been out this long yet since I started ultra running.. I’m looking for info! my pain is in the front of my shin though bet fib/tib maybe where it typically is.. and I have had shin splints before and it’s not that!

    • It took about 5 months from when the symptoms became really bad to finally get diagnosed with compartment syndrome. The quickest part was actually getting scheduled for surgery. That only took a little over a week! Waiting for the MRI and the different appointments took the longest. Is your pain more muscular or can you pinpoint it to a spot on your tibia or fibula? If it’s more muscular, then compartment syndrome could be a possibility. Sounds like the MRI didn’t give a clear answer. I know my compartment syndrome didn’t show up on the MRI, but they wanted to do that test first to avoid the pressure test if possible.

  2. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your running journey. My daughter is currently a senior in high school. We have been looking for answers since the indoor season of her freshman year. Her heart and soul has been running as it has brought her success and happiness. I have taken her to the doctors and they would run blood work. Last year after watching her run in pain and collapse at the finish we went to a sports med doctor to get some answers. She said she had over training syndrome. She has been seeing a sports nutritionist and sports psychologist for the past year as that this the treatment for OTS after taking her spring season of track off. Now her Senior year still pain and not being able to do workouts the way she used to without pain. Fed up with no one listening to me. I found Dr. Tenforde the founder of the National Running Center at Spaulding hospital in MA. He spent all the time we needed and is ordering a bunch of tests to find out what is wrong. One thing he is testing is compartment syndrome. My daughter is signed to run at a D1 college but I told Dr. Tenforde I can’t send her away without knowing what is wrong. I don’t want to get a phone call with her upset because of the pain she is going through. My daughter will have an EMG and Vascular test this week. I hope that she does not have anything serious but her symptoms sound like yours. She now has pain in her quads. Thanks for sharing your story. I wish you the best in your recovery! Maybe someday I will see you running the Boston Marathon!
    Christine

    • Hi Christine! I’m so glad that you’ve found my blog post helpful. That sounds like such a frustrating journey you and your daughter have had trying to figure out what’s wrong. I know that when I was in the middle of it all, it felt like I would never find an answer. What I can say is that when you do finally find out what’s going on, you know the hard part is over. At least, that’s what my experience has been like. Surgery and physical therapy was the easy part of this whole process. Even though it probably sounds worse to most people, I found the mental and emotional toll that waiting for appointments, waiting for referrals, waiting for test results, and being told that there was nothing they could do to help to be way harder than any physical pain. I’ll be hoping that you find out some answers soon! Sounds like Spaulding is pointing you in the right direction. Sending good thoughts your way.

      • Thank you so much for responding. You are like a support group because you understand what it is like to know you have a problem but never get any answers. I think the hard part for my daughter is that her team mates have know idea what is wrong because when you have pain in your legs you don’t wear a cast. She knows to adjust her running based upon how her legs are feeling but others judge her for that . She only wants to get back to where she once was that brought her great joy. I know you understand that by reading your post! I can only imagine the day that she can complete a hard workout and feel good, run a good race and not collapse at the end. I put you in my daily prayers for a speedy recovery! I look forward to continue to hear about your recovery and running journey!

        • I can definitely understand why her teammates’ judgment would be frustrating. One thing I’ve learned from this whole experience is to never judge somebody else. They can look healthy and able-bodied on the outside, but there could be something going on internally that you have no idea about. I really hope Spaulding gives you some answers so your daughter can get back to doing what she loves – running. Us runners are built pretty tough, so if there’s anyone that can make it through something like this, it’s your daughter. Keep me posted on what you find out! Wishing you all the best.

          • How has the recovery been since popliteal artery entrapment procedure. Just had mine done this past week and haven’t been able to find any concrete post op stories or guidelines

            • The second surgery went very smoothly. I had a muscle release done and I’m 4 weeks post op. I am walking a few miles every day without pain, I can bike (low resistance), and I got off crutches 2/3 weeks post op. The first surgery was more difficult since I had a bypass done. Plus, there were post op complications, which slowed down my recovery quite a bit. That leg is doing fine now, though. Also, if you’re looking for more resources it might be helpful to check out the facebook group “Popliteal Artery Entrapment Syndrome Support”. It’s just other people with the same diagnosis sharing their stories and asking questions. And, if you’re looking for guidelines, I’d be happy to share the post op instructions my surgeon gave me with you in terms of exercise and what you can/can’t do. I have a pdf of it, so if you’d like me to email it to you, let me know. How’s your recovery going?

              • Thank you for the response and getting back to me so quickly. I had the muscle release done as well but at UCLA but wasn’t really given any concrete post op guide lines which I’ll get on my follow up. For now it’s just the generic discharged wound management stuff. Recovery has been going well, at 8 days post op and I’m walking slightly w/ just soreness but day by day getting better. Still got one more leg to go. Sent a request to join that group which I saw in a previous post but it’s still pending. Would really appreciate it if you could email me those guidelines rafatkhalil5@yahoo.com. Glad to hear your recovered from the first surgery! Infection is no joke I have dealt w/ pseudomonas aeruginosa in the past after Fasciotomy

  3. Pingback: My Compartment Syndrome Journey – Joy Runner

  4. Diana Ford MA, LPC Psychological Health Coordinator, AFSC Contractor for AL Army National Guard, Ft McClellan, AL, 256-847-4148 desk; 334-425-8249 cell; dford@afsc.com Ford |

    Bodies are so mysterious, aren’t they? Thanks for sharing your story and I’ll be looking forward to the updates. Holding you close to my heart from far away. Auntie Di

  5. Laurel: Aunt Johanne and I are so sorry to hear of your plight. This has to be painful in more ways than one. If we have your number correctly as (802) 760-8603, we want to give you a call to catch up which we have been remiss.

    Hugs U Jon and A Johanne

    >

  6. I suppose the good news is that you have a diagnosis. We hope there is also a cure and you’re back to running marathons soon.

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