Runner Overcomes Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome

Sports medicine patient Delaney Kemp.

May 29, 2019

Delaney Kemp, a former Mill Valley High School athlete, knew she loved running when she chose participating in cross-country and track over playing soccer.

"It was a difficult decision. I had always wanted to play soccer in college, so the fact that I chose running over it was a very big deal," Delaney says.

Facing an unexpected obstacle

Delaney started running in middle school and continued throughout high school. During the summer of 2018, shortly after finishing her junior year, she began experiencing isolated pain in her right leg. The athletic trainer for Mill Valley High School, Clint McAlister, MA, ATC, LAT, referred her to sports medicine specialist David Smith, MD, at The University of Kansas Health System to diagnose the cause of her pain. He initially thought she might have a stress fracture, but her MRI results came back negative. He then told her to limit her training and see him when she returned from an upcoming mission trip to India.

During her trip, she gave her body some necessary time off from running. When she returned, she saw Dr. Smith again. She wasn't experiencing any pain at the time, so he gave her permission to slowly increase her training for the upcoming cross-country season. She completed the season and even helped her team win its first state cross-country championship. But after the season ended, she began experiencing pain again, this time in both legs.

In December, she met Dr. Smith again, this time at the Sports Medicine and Performance Center in Overland Park. Through a series of physical tests on a treadmill, he confirmed she did not have a stress fracture or shin splints. Instead, he diagnosed her with chronic exertional compartment syndrome, an exercise-induced muscle and nerve condition seen in young adult runners and athletes.

"Chronic exertional compartment syndrome occurs in runners, soccer players and any athlete who has to sustain running. Impact causes the 4 compartments in the legs to become overloaded. This can result in swelling of the legs and nerve compression," Dr. Smith explains.

Starting the new year on the right foot

Determined to complete her last track season in the spring, Delaney decided to have surgery to treat her condition. She met with orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Bryan Vopat, MD, who made her feel at ease about the procedure and her future as a runner.

"Both Dr. Smith and Dr. Vopat understood how important it was that I run in the spring and in the future. They communicated with one another to coordinate my care. I really felt like I was in good hands," Delaney says.

She had surgery for chronic exertional compartment syndrome on December 31. To regain her strength after the procedure, she worked with physical therapist Kyle Veazy, PT, DPT. They focused on slowly incorporating exercises for her hips, mobility and core.

"Delaney worked hard to restore how her feet, ankles, knees and hips moved. She learned how to safely increase her strength and muscular endurance from her trunk to her toes. Her focused efforts to maintain cardiovascular fitness and keep her overall conditioning really helped her during her recovery," Kyle says.

A bright future ahead

With the guidance of her physicans and physical therapist, Delaney began running again on February 14. She successfully completed her last track season, and she even achieved a personal record during one of her final meets in May. She feels strong and ready to take on her next challenge: running cross-country and track at Kansas State University, where she plans to double major in kinesiology and nutrition. She hopes other runners can learn from her experience.

"My advice to other runners dealing with an injury is to remember patience is key. Do what you can with what you have. Use your time off to rekindle the love for your sport. And remind yourself you are still an athlete," she says.

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