Hopefully you’re somewhat familiar with this medical condition, thanks to all the media coverage about “how CrossFit is dangerous”.  Dr. Michael Ray of CrossFit Flagstaff, AZ states “Rhabdomyolysis is a medical condition that may arise when muscle tissue breaks down and muscle cells are released into the bloodstream.”  The destruction of these cells cause a release of breakdown products, one of which is myoglobin – a protein molecule that is harmful to the kidneys and can cause acute renal failure and even death.

There are two key points that we’d like for you to understand: what causes rhabdo and what the symptoms of rhabdo are. 

First, if you understand the causes of this condition, you can avoid having it. Rhabdo is physically caused by crushing injuries, obstruction of blood supply to muscles, electrical injuries, and yes… exercise.  Typically, cases of rhabdo that are related to exercise are attributed to infrequent exposure to high intensity output coupled with poor hydration.  In other words, an athlete coming from a globo-gym with a moderate level of fitness that has their first exposure to CrossFit.

So how do you recognize rhabdo?  There are a couple of tell-tale symptoms to be aware of when self-diagnosing possible rhabdomyolysis.  Dr. Michael Ray describes symptoms as “generalized muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, and in significant cases, dark red Coca-Cola urine.”  That last bit is an instant ticket to the ER – don’t mess around – GO!  Though, we’ve all felt many of these symptoms and toughed it out, the extreme cases are the ones that result in renal failure and can be fatal.

How do you avoid rhabdo?  First, stay adequately hydrated for intense exercise.  At a minimum, you should be drinking 64 ounces of water a day.  Second, know your limits!  If you haven’t been coming in to the gym regularly, a workout like today’s could be a recipe for disaster. Notify the coach of your infrequent attendance and they’ll set you up with an appropriate modification for the workout.

Read more in the CFJ article: “The Truth About Rhabdo” by Dr. Michael Ray