Ryan Littlejohn ATC, CES
Have you ever heard of a condition called rhabdomyolysis? It is a very serious condition caused by direct or indirect muscle injury. This results from the death of muscle fibers which release their cells into the bloodstream systemically. This can cause the kidneys to shut down and become a life threating condition. Who is at risk? Athletes that are working out beyond their maximum capacity or during periods of dehydration without proper rest and hydration breaks, individuals that have been sedentary and suddenly work out at a very high intensity without adequate rest breaks; but it can also occur with anyone working out too hard without proper resting of their muscles. Indirect causes can occur when there is an injury to a group of muscles during trauma, car accidents, crush injuries and drug usage.
According to the CDC approximately 26,000 cases of rhabdomyolysis are reported in the United States each year. Athletes working out at high intensities, such as weight lifters, military recruits, swimmers and football players that lack the sickle cell trait are at greater risk. Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include dark urine often with low output, severe muscle cramping, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, increased heart rate, confusion, dehydration and loss of consciousness. Darkened urine occurs when the muscle starts to breakdown and exit the body as a dark “coke” color. When this occurs it would be considered a medical emergency and the individual should seek immediate medical attention.
While rhabdomyolysis is not extremely common, the chances of it occurring can be reduced if certain precautions are taken. Drinking plenty of fluids before and after strenuous exercise as this will dilute your urine and help your kidneys eliminate waste from your body. Proper rest during and after workouts; take adequate rest breaks in between sets. Periodization of workouts; progressively increase intensity overtime to allow your body to acclimate to this level of training as well as vary the intensity from one training session to another (ie. if you have a hard session or two in a row, your next one should be a lighter as well as plan for regeneration workouts throughout your training). Proper hydration is essential to keeping your body cool and allowing your kidneys to function adequately.
More information about rhabdomyolysis can be found here