What is the real danger of running and retinal detachment? Here’s my story: my retina detached last year, and instead of gas, my doctor filled my eye with silicon gel so I could fly back home. I kept the gel for almost a year until last month, when I had it removed.
My doctor says my retina is fine and I can go back to athletic activities soon, but my wife is freaking out because her doctor told her running was one of the reasons it had got detached in the first place (he blamed the constant impact).
She’s been begging me to give it up. She thinks if I don’t stop running, it will affect my sight for good. I will be devastated if I have to quit, but I’m not happy making my wife worry either. Are there any studies on this?
You are probably not the only runner dealing with retinal detachment: about three of every 1000 people will be affected by it at some point in their lifetime. Common symptoms of a detached or detaching retina include flashing lights, floaters, and loss of peripheral vision.
Your question is difficult to answer, however. While I have had a few patients in my career with this problem, I am not an ophthalmologist. Therefore, I do not manage the issue in my office practice.
As best as I can tell from the limited literature, it does not appear that exercise like running causes retinal detachment. But there is no clear research about running, specifically, after a detachment.
I did find one applicable study from 1984 in the America Journal of Ophthalmology by Bovino and Marcus. They did a six week randomised study of patients who had scleral buckling surgery divided into two groups: one group was encouraged to start their usual physical activity immediately after hospital discharge; and a sedentary “control” group was advised to avoid anything beyond minimal activities of daily living. At six months, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups with regard to complications or re-tear, and after one year their vision testing was equal.
Eye care has changed a lot since 1984, all for the better, so I can only assume that a similar study would show the same outcomes.
The problem you face is reconciling the differences in your doctor's recommendations and your wife’s interpretation of her doctor's advice. It may be worth another visit with your doctor, accompanied by your wife, to discuss the differences of opinion. As a profession, our goal in medical care is the best outcome for you as our patient. My gut feeling is that you are safe to run and your ophthalmologist is not making a recommendation that will lead to future harm.
At the same time, harmonising your wife’s concerns with your desire to return to running will be essential to a great family outcome. While you are waiting to meet with your doctor, you might start a walking programme to get ready for your return to running, especially if you have been away from exercise for over a year.