Q: I read a report on Denver Broncos Football player Rahim Moore having an injury called “lateral compartment syndrome.” The story caught my eye because it said that anyone who is an athlete could suffer this dangerous injury stemming from any sort of hit or fall. I’m a cyclist and train pretty hard. I’ve also taken a few spills that have bruised me up. Can you explain to me what to look for and how to prevent this injury when I’m training or racing? -Ed; Denver, Colorado
A: By way of background, Denver Broncos safety Rahim Moore suffered a leg injury in the first half of last Sunday’s game against Kansas City and was out the rest of the game. When the pain persisted during the night, Moore alerted the Broncos trainer who astutely referred Moore to a specialist. On Monday, Moore underwent emergency fasciotomy surgery, a procedure that repaired the bleeding in the muscle sheath in Moore’s left lower leg, which decreased the pressure and restored the leg’s blood flow.
Lateral compartment syndrome is an injury that can occur from a hard impact that causes bleeding and swelling in the limbs. This results in restricted blood flow to the muscles and nerves that supply them necessary oxygen and nutrients. It can be very serious if left untreated, and lead to muscle damage, loss of a limb, infection, nerve damage, kidney failure, or even death. LCS typically develops over time when one has suffered repeated injury to a limb. The danger is that when the tissue swells there is no room in the surrounding compartments for the limb to expand, causing the muscle, vessels and nerves to become squeezed, which in turn, results in severe pain. The good news is that there are warning signs: Decreased range of motion, pain that does not let up, numbness and the “pins and needles” feeling (legs and feet fall asleep), and in the late stage, paralysis of the limb.
Competitive athletes, of course, are more prone to repeated impact injuries, and thus, at a higher risk but other causes of lateral compartment syndrome include falls, fractures, casts that are too tight, prolonged limb compression, legs elevated in surgeries longer than six hours, intravenous drug injections and anabolic steroid use that can cause muscle swelling. You’d be interested in knowing also that competitive cyclists can be afflicted with “chronic compartment syndrome,” or CCS, from sitting too long on bike seats. It’s recommended that when out for a long ride or race, you stop and get off your bike seat every now and then to get your circulation turned back on. Make sure you schedule some rest days between training days and if you do take a spill or two, keep a close eye on the injury – ice and elevate the afflicted area – and if it gets, worse see a doctor right away.
The bottom line is that you can really do yourself some harm if you try to “tough out” an injury. Train smart – be smart – and get medical help when you need it.