Prospering And Thriving Despite The Pain

by Jason Bryden
Assistant Sports Information Director 

Note: This story also appears in the October issue of the Sho'men Club Newsletter. To become a member of the Sho'men Club, click here.

Playing with pain.  All athletes at some point in their careers play with pain.  Sometimes some rest and medicine is all they need to overcome the pain, but in other cases surgery is needed.  For Washington College junior women's lacrosse player Brooke Paulshock, the latter was needed to overcome the pain. 

Paulshock had surgery on both legs during different times during the summer of 2010 to take care of a condition known as compartment syndrome. 

Washington College Assistant Athletic Trainer Candy Baker explained the type of compartment syndrome that Paulshock suffered from and it was Exertioanal.  That is one of the two major types of this syndrome, the other being acute.  Acute is caused by a direct blow to the body.  The injury primarily occurs in the shin/lower leg area.

"Common among athletes is exertional compartment syndrome which occurs when there is an increase in tissue pressure that obstructs the neurovascular network in the leg," says Baker.  "The condition typically causes exercise-induced pain, swelling and, in severe cases, disability in the leg. It is most common among athletes who participate in sports with repetitive movements such as running, biking and swimming. Treatment for the condition includes rest, ice and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, in severe cases where symptoms persist, a fasciotomy, which is a surgical procedure that cuts muscle fascia to allow the muscle to expand, may be performed to relive the built-up tissue pressure in the leg."

Head women's lacrosse coach Julika Blankenship says Brooke has been an inspiration for her teammates.

"Brooke has shown to her teammates that she can push through the pain and will do whatever it takes to play," says Blankenship.  "Brooke has helped her teammates to see that you need to take advantage of every opportunity that you get to play because that can be taken away from you at any time."

For Paulshock, compartment syndrome was not the beginning of her injury problems here at Washington College; a stress fracture in her right tibia curtailed her first season.

"I started getting in shape during winter break, such as running (and weight training)" said the junior. "My calves hurt when I ran, but I just thought my legs were just sore from not running for a while. I dealt with the pain during preseason (the month of February). I went to (head athletic trainer) Thad (Moore) and he said it was just shin splints. 

The lower leg problems continued during the 2009 season. Paulshock described the pain in her lower legs as "like somebody was giving me an Indian burn in the inside of my leg.  I would get bruises on the boneline of my right leg on my tibia. I dealt with this until I could not anymore. I finished my last timed mile and stopped due to a stress fracture."

Paulshock stopped playing when an x-ray confirmed that her right tibia was centimeters away from snapping in half.

She missed the final seven games in 2009 due to the stress fracture after starting the first nine contests.  The injury also cost her fall ball season for her sophomore season.

After she was cleared to play and started training for the 2010 season, the pain returned.

"During fall break (2009), I felt that something was not right in my legs and it had to be more than just shin splints. I went to four doctors and got tested for stress fractures, had vascular testing and finally it came down to doing the compartment testing. It took about a year for the doctors to understand what was wrong with me and what causes my stress fractures."

Paulshock said that the test for the syndrome, which she had done in November 2009, took about an hour.  They put 24 needles in both legs to test the compartment pressures in each leg before running and after running.  She found out about three to four months later that she did have compartment syndrome. After her test, the doctor determined that surgery was needed for both legs, but they would not operate on both legs at the same time so she needed two separate surgeries.  The first surgery was in May 2010 for her right leg and the second one was in August 2010 for her left one.

She said the first surgery (in May) took two hours and they cut five compartments open.  The second surgery (occurred on August 12) took one hour and 45 minutes. "They went in through both sides of my legs, about two inches long, and cut the sheath that protects my muscle (about 12 inches).  They made four slices on my left leg and five on my right. The sheath would not expand with my calf so once the doctor (Dr. Wilkens) slices the sheath, my calf muscle popped and finally could relax after all the pressure was built up."

When it comes to rehabilitation Paulshock says, there is not one specific type.  "There is no exact rehab but simply to wait. It is hard because you feel fine to run but the inside slices of your leg might not be healed and if you overwork yourself after surgery, then the surgery can be worthless and not pull through. After surgery they told me once you can walk without pain, do so because my calf muscle needs to build back its strength. I am allowed to bike and do the elliptical three weeks after surgery.  I am allowed to run two months after surgery.  The worst thing is you have to sit and wait to heal."

Paulshock said that recovery time is usually three to four months, but varies by individual.  She can start jogging on October 12.

Why has she been able to persevere?  Blankenship says it is because "Brooke is so positive and quirky. The way she carries herself both on the field and off is commendable.  She looks at every opportunity with an optimistic view and never doubted for one minute that she would be able to get back on the field on February 1st. She also is the type of lacrosse player that has such high lacrosse IQ that she has been able to help coach the defense though this fall even though she has not been able to play."

The pain has not stopped Paulshock from performing to a high level on the field as she earned All-Centennial Conference Second Team Honors and earned Team MVP honors as a sophomore in 2010.  She was second on the squad in draw controls (26) and third in ground balls (25) and caused turnovers (12).  She helped the Shorewomen achieve their first winning record in six years in 2010.

Blankenship was not surprised one bit that Paulshock was able to achieve both honors.

"Although one would think it is an extra special accomplishment because of her injuries, it never crossed my mind that anything would hold her back. She is the type of person as well as athlete that would run through a wall for her coaches and teammates." 

Brooke credits two players from last year's squad for helping her pull through despite the unbearable pain and after the operation - Allie Hanzsche and Tara Hart, who were both captains in 2010.

"Tara told me to take my time and don't push myself after surgery because things could go bad if (I did not)," says the defender.  "Allie always gave me advice and still does about my recovery and when I'm hurt!  My senior captains last year knew no matter what was wrong with me, I was determined to suck it up and play for my team!"

Hart knows what Paulshock is going through as she had surgery on her left leg for compartment syndrome in 2007 and vascular surgery in 2008.

The junior said that "everyone was afraid to tell me about it because it was so bad (for Tara)!" 

Paulshock, who was named one of the four captains for the 2011 campaign, is pumped to return to the field this spring after all she has had to endure the past couple of years.

"All of the pain I have pushed myself through - I can't even describe in words how excited I am to step foot on the field and play," says the captain.  "The surgery was well worth it and the 24 needles post surgery for the compartment testing.  I will not need to ever get surgery again for this problem."

Blankenship is also excited to see her defender return to the field and in her short time as captain proving to be a tremendous leader.

"Brooke has already proven to be an amazing captain and leader for her teammates," says the third-year coach.  "You might think that it can be hard to earn the respect of your team when you are injured but Brooke has been earning their respect since she arrived on this campus and she would never let me, or them down.  I can't wait to get her back on the field. She is such a dynamic player and such a smart takeaway defender."

This is great news for fans of Shorewomen lacrosse.     

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