Rhabdomyolysis: The Silent Exercise-Induced Killer!

On Friday January 3, 2014, I went to my CrossFit class and did a WOD that consisted of 42-30-18 Ring Rows and 21-15-9 Barbell Back Squats, alternating between RRs and Squats. Prior to this I hadn’t done any upper body strength training for about a month because of some nerve issues, and I actually thought this workout would be okay for me. Little did I know how wrong I was!

After (and now that I think about it, even during) the workout my arms were immediately sore. It even hurt for me to take a shower! I figured, “Hey I just did a tough arm workout, of course my arms are sore!”

By Saturday I could barely straighten my arms and they started to get swollen and puffy.

Sunday my arms looked like this:

On the inner side of my biceps my arms were puffing out! This is when I decided to do a little bit of research on Rhabdomyolysis (Rab-doe-my-o-lie-sis). I heard about it from my CrossFit coach when he posted an article about it a few months back. During my research I came across this article: http://fitfeat.com/blog/2011/06/03/rhabdomyolysis-if-you-exercise-read-this/ written by Shari. Shari if you’re reading this… THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I cannot thank you enough for you writing about your experience and it really helped me take the initiative when it came to my health! You might have just saved my life!

After reading her article my boyfriend and I drove to the ER. After a 4+ hour wait… I told the doctor I did CrossFit and I thought I had Rhabdo. He checked my Creatine phosphokinase (CPK) levels and normal is < 200. I was at 8000. I was admitted immediately, hooked to an IV and was in the hospital for 4 days. I didn’t plan for any of this to happen and it came out of nowhere! Even after I was in the hospital I was STILL in denial.

They put a liter of fluids in me every 2 hours and I was peeing round the clock! Within 2 days I gained 20 pounds of water weight. Trust me when I tell you that this was seriously disturbing for me, especially since I’ve lost 20lbs and was still in the process of trying to lose weight!


Welcome my 20lb. water baby!

Here are my CPK levels as the days went on:
1/5/14: 8030
1/6/14: 10,416
1/6/14: 11,858
1/6/14: 15,645
1/6/14: 16,191
1/7/14: 12,100
1/7/14: 13,013
1/7/14: 13,090
1/7/14: 12,463
1/8/14: 10,186
1/8/14: 11,004
1/8/14: 9,639
1/9/14: 7,749
1/10/14: 3045

The first couple days my levels kept going up! Could you imagine if I was still at home or at work? My numbers could have been much worse!

Two weeks later I took another blood test…
1/22/14: 129
Halleluyer I’m normal again!!!

WTF is Rhabdomyolysis??!

Now that you heard my story, I bet you’re wondering, WTF is Rhabdomyolysis??!

According to medical dictionaries and the interwebs:
Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is harmful to the kidney and often causes kidney damage.

Some symptoms of Rhabdo include:

  • Dark, red, or cola-colored urine
  • Decreased urine output
  • General weakness
  • Muscle stiffness or aching (myalgia)
  • Muscle tenderness
  • Weakness of the affected muscles

If you are experiencing muscle stiffness, pain, weakness, swelling then go to the ER! DO NOT WAIT! Especially if your urine is dark, coca-cola colored. That means blood is in your urine and your kidneys are failing.

I write this as a way to let those who exercise know that Rhabdomyolysis IS out there and it IS dangerous. Though it is a rare occurance, it can happen to anyone. Someone in the military, CrossFitters, even those working out at home can get Rhabdo. I read about a situation where a person got Rhabdo from doing 20 sit-ups every day for a week. Another case happened when someone took a cycling class ONE time! It can occur in your arms, legs, back, even abs. It can happen to athletic people (like me) or to someone who hasn’t worked out at all and is just getting started!

Post-Rhabdo

As far as my post-Rhabdo experience, I haven’t lifted anything heavy or even attempted to work out. I will post what I’ve done to get back into the swing of things, and if I will return to CrossFit. As of right this moment, doing CrossFit is definitely not an option for me. I dont’ know if I’ll ever be a CrossFitter again. Going through this experience has definitely traumatized me a little bit. I will be questioning my body every time I lift and wondering if the next workout I do will be okay. I don’t know how long mentally this will last, but I just don’t see myself going back to CF anytime soon. Right now I want to work out SO bad but I need to understand that I need to start off SLOW. Like my doctor told me, “No Pain, No Gain” does NOT apply here!

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8 thoughts on “Rhabdomyolysis: The Silent Exercise-Induced Killer!

  1. Hi Dawn! Thanks for the shout out! I am so glad you are doing OK! And am so glad to know that my post helped you out. Definitely go slow as you get back into working out. I have rhabdo at the back of my mind every time I work out. On one hand I hate that because I worry that I might be going easier because of it but on the other hand I figure that will keep me safe. Don’t stress if you don’t end up going back to CrossFit. I am not a CrossFit attendee, I’m a former NPC Figure Competitor and you CAN get the body you want without going the CrossFit route. Take care and I wish you all the best! — Shari B.

    • Thank you! I agree, not everyone with killer bodies does CrossFit, and I plan on getting stronger and more toned through hard work! The hard part is going to be my resting period. Thanks for your support! It’s nice to know that there are people out there who I can share these experiences with!

  2. Very nice.. Indeed a valuable increment to my knowledge..
    Just wanted to share my friends experience here. He is trying this amazing Body Beast and he is very much satisfied with the results!
    I just started it. Will let you know about the results.

  3. ” The final thing to watch for is people who have done CrossFit for a while, took a break and want to start up again. This is almost a sure recipe for rhabdo. I can think of 5 cases off the top of my head involving our gym and other local affiliates of people returning after a break with the mental ability to push themselves much harder than there body is able to safely accomplish. The classic story involves a woman who gave birth and came back to CrossFit, but it can happen with anyone who takes a break. The better the CrossFitter the more likely it is that they will give themselves rhabdo. ”

    http://board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=38220

    • Good point! I know for me, I keep remembering the progress I’ve made with CrossFit and how strong I was becoming. It’s hard to not want to push myself. Taking is slow is actually much harder for me than going to failure. Thank you for your comment!

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