Rhabdomyolysis – Breaking Down from Overtraining

When done properly, exercise and physical activity are some of the healthiest things a person can do. Groundbreaking info, surely. When it comes to starting a new exercise program, it can be difficult to figure out how much somebody should be doing. Most people who overdo something aren’t going to get severely injured, barring a fall or some kind of direct trauma. There are cases, however, where people can do WAY too much of an exercise, and that level of overtraining can lead to trouble in the form of rhabdomyolysis.

Rhabdomyolysis is a rare but very dangerous condition where muscle tissue is broken down and gets absorbed into the bloodstream. These muscle tissues are not effectively filtered by the kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure. Long story short, this can be life-threatening. Rhabdomyolysis has many different causes, but one of the more common causes is excessive strain from exercise. This will usually come from someone doing something that is so far beyond what they would normally be doing, like someone going from a 5k run as their longest run to a full marathon without training, or jumping into a high-level, high-intensity fitness class when you haven’t been exercising regularly.

Here are some common things to look out for with rhabdomyolysis:

  • Severe muscle pain – This will usually be in the area that was being used, and will often occur near the trunk (meaning the back, hips/thighs, or shoulders/upper arms). The pain will often be worse than just normal workout soreness.
  • Muscle weakness – Again, usually in the area that was being used. In this case, the weakness is going to be pretty severe.
  • Dark-colored urine – Brown or red are common colors for rhabdomyolysis, but if you noticed either of these colors in your urine, you should be making a phone call to your doctor immediately. The change in color is from muscle proteins entering your urine, which is a sign that your kidneys are not properly filtering.
  • Changes in heart rate – In most cases, an elevated heart rate will seen, but differences in each person’s body chemistry may affect each individual differently. If your heart rate is much different than what it usually is at rest after resting for more than an hour, pay attention to that.

There are other signs and symptoms to be aware of. WebMD has more if you’re curious, but for exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis, those are the ones that you’ll see most often.

Again, rhabdomyolysis is pretty rare, but certain people are at increased risk. One group that should be specifically mentioned is people who are taking a class of drugs called statins, which are used to treat high levels of blood cholesterol. These individuals aren’t at risk of excessive muscle breakdown just by lifting a dumbbell, but they do need to be more cautious when starting an exercise routine and safely progressing it.

If you experience any of the above symptoms after starting a new exercise routine or spending the day working way harder than usual, consider if what you’re feeling seems normal. The change in urine color should immediately tip you off to call your doctor or even emergency services. The muscle pain, weakness, or change in heart rate are much more expected, but if they’re well beyond what you’re used to after being active, it may be worth a call to your doctor or physical therapist to get it checked out.

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do? The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified physical therapist, your primary physician, or a certified healthcare professional for any personal concerns.

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