At CF True we want to teach you everything we know, to share our knowledge on fitness and health so you can share it with others. One of our top priorities is to make sure you are moving safely so you can enjoy a lifetime of fitness. Therefore, it is our job to keep you informed on all aspects of health and wellness. One of those topics that might be outside of your scope is Rhabdomyolysis.
Rhabdomyolysis often referred to as just simply Rhabdo is a breakdown of muscle tissue which causes a release of myoglobin (an iron-oxygen binding protein) into the the bloodstream. Myoglobin is not normally found in the bloodstream, but when it does get into the bloodstream the kidneys will help to remove it. However, too much and the kidney will not be able to keep up and sever kidney damage could be possible.
There are some interesting things to note about Rhabdo:
- It’s not just from CrossFit, although Crossfit gets a bad name from it I think that this is actually a positive thing in that more people are aware of what Rhabdo is, what the symptoms are, and how to minimize any chance of getting it.
- There is no one activity that causes it. There have been documented cases of football players, runners, swimmers, cyclist, etc. It can also happen to those in the military, drug abusers, and crush victims. Or a result of heatstroke, genetic factors, and seizures.
- It can happen to anyone. Untrained athletes, highly trained athletes, young, old, everyone is at risk and need to take proper precautions.
The difficult part about rhabdo is that there are very few warning signs that you have pushed too far and on top of that only about 50% of cases have symptoms and many of them are the same as normal muscle soreness. Unlike other injuries where you might tweak a muscle and then layoff doing certain movements, you might not notice anything wrong during your workout as the symptoms take time to develop.
Due to all the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to who and when rhabdo may develop it may seem a bit scary. But there are actions that we can take. First we need to be informed and that is what we are doing with this blog. We need to be aware of our bodies when performing high intensity work and be truthful to ourselves about our training level and our capabilities.
Second we need to take steps to minimize the chances of developing rhabdo beyond just considering the movements. Being well hydrated is key because it will aid your kidneys in flushing out the toxins that go into the bloodstream. But hydration is not just drinking water. You also need to consider your sodium and potassium levels (electrolytes) which work together to balance your hydration.
It is interesting to note that potassium is lost only through urine, but sodium is lost both between sweat and urine. So, if you are drinking a ton of water and therefore using the restroom constantly you’ll need to replenish these key electrolytes. Also, if your training session occurs on a very hot day you’ll likely need to replenish these even more than if you had done the same work on a cool day.
Some of the best sources of potassium are from plants; Bananas, Broccoli, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Oranges, and Kale. Sodium is a bit easier. If you eat processed foods you are likely getting a good amount, but if you are under extreme conditions you may want to add in a bit more. Any salty snack will do or sports drink like Formula O2.
Even if you have taken all the precautionary steps it is still important to know about the symptoms of rhabdo and when you need to get to a doctor. But remember not everyone will develop these symptoms:
- Muscle soreness
- Dark Urine (think coca-cola)
- Low/infrequent urination
If you find yourself with these symptoms it is best to seek medical attention. When caught early the damage will be minimal and you’ll have a full recovery. Typically those who develop rhabdo will be admitted to a hospital for intravenous fluids. Based on the severity, the stay at the hospital can be anywhere from a few days to a week plus. After being released from the hospital your recovery will mean that you are not able to exercise for a few weeks and sometimes longer and when you do start to exercise again it will be a slow, gradual process.
We’ve taken the first step in educating ourselves on the potential for rhabdo. As your coaches we will help you to modify workouts to ensure your safety. And you now have the knowledge to stay healthy for a lifetime of awesome workouts! Let us know if you have any questions.