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Maria Sykes
Maria Sykes
January 3, 2024 ·  4 min read

Experience: “I Went Jogging, and I Lost My Leg”

The saying “No pain, no gain” might be a motivator for some to get into a gym, but truth be told, feeling pain after exercising could be a sign of a serious medical emergency.

Recently, Ella Dove, of London, UK, shared the story of how she suddenly lost her leg.

In the spring of 2016, then 25-years-old, she went out for a run with her sister.

“Five minutes from home, I tripped over my own feet. I fell on the gravel path, a searing pain ripping through my right leg. I’d twisted it and the knee had dislocated, my foot bent at an alarming angle. I assumed it was a fracture. I couldn’t move, but felt strangely calm, the adrenaline acting as a painkiller,” she recalls. (1)

Unable to stand or walk, Dove and her sister got the attention of a passerby who called an ambulance but didn’t wait for the paramedics with them. Unfortunately, the first responders were unable to locate them.

Hours passed before the duo was able to get the attention of another runner, who called emergency services again and hailed down the paramedics.

“But within a few hours, I was in intensive care. There was no pulse in my right foot. The severity of my injuries stunned everyone. My surgeon has since told me that when he was bleeped from A&E that morning, he thought someone had made a mistake – he didn’t believe that injuries that bad could have been caused by a trip,” said Dove.

Dove was diagnosed with compartment syndrome and was quickly given not one, but three operations in an effort to restart the circulation in her leg before sepsis set in. (1)

Dove remembers her medical staff asking her whether she preferred having her leg amputated above or below the knee. “Please, I’m 25. Just save as much of my leg as you can.” I took a final look at my right foot; the toenails painted red, skin mottled blue. By that point, I was in so much pain I just wanted it to stop.” (1)

Related: The Connection Between Fibromyalgia and Leg Pain

What is Compartment Syndrome?

The muscle groups in your arms and legs are segmented into compartments, with fascia (a strong membrane) grouping together muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. (2)

An acute injury or long-term exercising can result in inflammation within a compartment. This can cause extreme pressure, which can restrict blood flow and deplete oxygen supplies to those muscles. This is known as compartment syndrome. (2)

If not immediately treated, an amputation might be necessary, as in Dove’s case.

Compartment syndrome is most commonly a result of: (2)

  • a fracture
  • a crushing injury
  • severe bruising
  • wearing a tight cast or bandage
  • drinking or using recreational drugs
  • high-intensity activities, especially running, tennis, and swimming

It’s important to be familiar with the symptoms of compartment syndrome from both acute injuries and overexertion.

Acute compartment syndrome symptoms include severe pain that doesn’t improve with medication or elevating the injury; tightness, tingling, numbness, or burning in the injury. (2)

Compartment syndrome as a result of long-term damage will include symptoms such as pain for more than 30 minutes after exercising, numbness, paralysis, and noticeable inflammation around the affected area. (2)

Ella Dove Recovering from Devastating Injury

After about half of her leg was surgically removed, Dove spent 6 weeks recovering in the hospital and moved from London to Kent to live with her parents as she adjusted to her new life.

She used a wheelchair for four months while waiting for her leg to heal enough to be fitted for a prosthesis.

“Three months later, I moved back to London, gradually regained my independence and began a phased return to work as a journalist. Life had changed – but perhaps not as drastically as I’d feared. Getting around uses a huge amount of energy, and while I still have a busy social life, I’ve learned to listen to my body; to slow down when I need to,” she says. (1)

Since her injury, Ella Dove has never been the same, but she continues to grow in strength. She even revisits the site of her injury.

“Every year, on the anniversary of the accident, I walk along the canal. I run there sometimes, too, but it feels especially poignant to stand in the spot where everything changed, and remind myself how lucky I am. My own path may have shifted direction, but the horizon is bright. Blade bouncing, heart pumping, I’ve never felt more alive. ” (1)

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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