Protecting muscles and joints from further injury
April 10, 2012 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Bad calf injury of some sort. Must get up and down stairs once a day, three days in a row. Strategies for minimizing the pain (and potential damage) of this?

I've been bedridden for several days with a so-far-undiagnosed left calf muscle injury (or blood clot, but that's unlikely -- never any cramping or symptoms like hardness, redness, swelling).

Saw doctor yesterday; will get a leg ultrasound today to see if muscle tear or detachment can be found and rule out clot; will see a specialist tomorrow. (Remaining two appointments can't be rescheduled.)

Standing on the calf, or walking, OR just having the calf at rest with my foot on the floor (so it's the lowest part of my body) = excruciating calf pain. Sitting or lying with calf at hip level or above = little to no pain.

I'm in a two-story house. Doctor appointment yesterday meant my first attempt in five days to get down and up the stairs. I sat down on the stairs, resting my left ankle on my right knee to prevent the pain of lowering the calf any further, and used my right leg to lower myself down each step. Reversed the same thing to go back up the stairs, sitting down and lifting myself with my right leg. (Rode around doctor's office in their wheelchair with calf elevated.)

This approach to the stairs unsurprisingly made my right knee hurt, and that knee is already inflamed (calf injury might well have initially come from overcompensating to protect right knee). So this approach may be unwise to do three days in a row.

But attempting to just walk down or up stairs = blinding pain.

What would you suggest I try for today's and tomorrow's stair descending/climbing? I will have taken Tylenol (can't take any other OTC pain reliever -- not aspirin / ibuprofen / any NSAID). I have someone to help me, but he can't carry me and it's unclear exactly how he should assist otherwise.
posted by kalapierson to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
Get a crutch, or use a makeshift one, and use it to get around.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:51 PM on April 10, 2012

I have a pair of crutches and tried in many ways to use one on the stairs. Do you have ideas I might have missed for this specific problem of stair descending/ascending?
posted by kalapierson at 9:54 PM on April 10, 2012

So, does it hurt when you're standing and putting no weight at all on that foot? Just having it lower than the rest of your body?

If so, does if feel more like it hurts there because of swelling/blood pooling/blood pressure, or because of strain/stress it puts on the calf?

If it's swelling, would a moderate thickness ace bandage help keep the blood from pooling and swelling painfully? (This has helped me in the past with a bad ankle sprain with a lot of associated tissue damage.)

Alternatively, if that causes tension/strain on the muscles, can you wrap something around your ankle/foot and then up to your knee/lower thigh to provide keep painful stretching from happening? (A more manual version of this worked for me post-ACL repair -- a long scarf, or a strip of a beach towel looped on my heel let me control the knee movement and elevate my own foot.)

In either case, you want to use wide, soft bandage (or fabric for the second option) and don't keep anything tight/wrapped that would affect your circulation.

Finally, if you're cleared to ice, then ice for the 20 minutes before you have to go down stairs. (just clear this with the Dr so you don't screw up any diagnostic tests scheduled immediately after your descent.)

Good luck. Let me know if any of this doesn't make sense.
posted by mercredi at 10:04 PM on April 10, 2012

I have a pair of crutches and tried in many ways to use one on the stairs. Do you have ideas I might have missed for this specific problem of stair descending/ascending?

When I had a broken right knee and had come back from the hospital to my second-floor apartment, I used one of the crutches I was given to lever the right side of my body up the stairs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:12 PM on April 10, 2012

Basically, the pain the crutch caused my armpit in supporting my weight was much less than the pain in my broken limb. YMMV.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:21 PM on April 10, 2012

Is there any way you can temporarily only live on the first floor? Sleep on a sofa or something?

Or, if you're a fairly small lady, can you get a burly pal to swing by and carry you up and down the stairs once a day?
posted by mollymayhem at 10:27 PM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I was on crutches for a few months I generally threw my crutches down the stairs and hopped down (or up) on one leg. It was so much easier and quicker. This is easier with a bannister (and an unpopulated staircase).
posted by Trivia Newton John at 11:30 PM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I had foot surgery and had to go upstairs to bed I crawled on my knees, so that my knees did what my feet normally did on the stairs. I had to go one step at a time and hang on to the banister for balance but it worked. I don't know if that would hurt your calf or not but it shouldnt strain your knee as bad. Maybe use your good leg to put your foot down and push you up the step and use your bad leg just to take the weight long enough to reposition your other foot by putting your knee down. Keep it bent to keep your calf up as much as possible.
posted by MultiFaceted at 4:51 AM on April 11, 2012

When I broke my foot and asked my orthopedist about getting up and down from my 4th floor walkup, he said "it depends how good you are getting up and down stairs on your rear end."

I ultimately did okay with a walking boot on the stairs, but I've seen the "sit-and-slide" method recommended in other spots. Obviously this would be a lot easier going down than going up, but it's apparently what a lot of people do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on April 11, 2012

Do you know how to use crutches correctly? That's a serious question. Many, many people are either given crutches at the doctor's office or purchase crutches on their own without ever being taught how to use them correctly. You should be able to go up and down stairs without ever putting any weight on your bad leg.

Here is a video that will show you how to use crutches correctly. Their method for going up and down stairs requires a railing; that portion begins around 3:30.

Here is another video that demonstrates how to go up and down stairs on crutches, this time without using a railing. The stairs portion begins around 3:45 in this video. This video also shows an alternative "scoot" method for getting both up and down the stairs.

Keep in mind that the crutches should be taking the place of the bad leg. When going up stairs, it's good leg, crutches. When going down stairs, it's crutches, good leg. No weight ever needs to go on the bad leg.
posted by pecanpies at 12:06 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also: my husband had an injury that sounds similar to yours; it ended up being a torn Achilles tendon. He tore it in an odd place, right where it attaches to the calf muscle. I know this wasn't your question, but since the injury sounds so similar - he too found it excruciating to have his calf in a dependent position - I wanted to throw it out there.
posted by pecanpies at 12:10 PM on April 11, 2012

Thank you everyone, especially pecanpies (you're right, I'd gotten no instruction on how to use the crutches).
posted by kalapierson at 9:05 AM on April 12, 2012

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