CrossFitters: How to Avoid Rhabdomyolysis

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While it’s absolutely possible to get injured during any strenuous activity, the ultra-intense makeup of CrossFit can sometimes lead to athletes – especially first-timers – over-exerting themselves. While this isn’t unusual in and of itself, long-term exertion has been known to lead to physical issues, not the least of one is rhabdomyolysis.
If you aren’t familiar with rhabdomyolysis, don’t worry. It’s a fairly rare condition, but it has been seen in athletes that workout too hard, especially with the recent increase in high-intensity workout programs.

Make no mistake about what rhabdomyolysis feels like, though. We’re not talking about the after-effects of tough workouts where your arms feel like jello and even waving off bugs as a matter of insect control seems like a challenging task. We’re talking about the after-effects of tough workouts that lead to serious fatigue and extensive muscle and skeletal problems. Untreated, rhabdomyolysis can lead to complications related to the kidneys, including – and this is in the last stages of the syndrome – renal failure.

Rhabdomyolysis is caused by a number of factors, including, as WebMD so eloquently notes, “extreme muscle strain”. In other words, it’s a serious consideration for anyone who gets into the box and ignores the signs. Once someone has rhabdomyolysis, they are likely to get it again, so it’s important to know the symptoms of the condition. Unfortunately, those symptoms can be vague, including areas of the body that exhibit tenderness, muscle weakness, feeling sick, throwing up, fever and dark-colored urine.

In other words, the symptoms could seem to be innocuous. Plus, for CrossFitters who believe in the “no pain, no gain” philosophy, it would be easy to pooh-pooh any signs of rhabdomyolysis, assuming they are simply part of the price paid to get fit and healthy.

Let’s not forget, too, that CrossFitters might be reticent to head to their doctors’ offices to discuss stress and strains. Many physicians are conservative when they hear that their patients are “overdoing it”, and will quickly provide a prescription to back off on intense physical activity. No one wants to hear that kind of diagnosis! Thus, early rhabdomyolysis symptoms can go for weeks without being addressed.

What’s the answer? As with all health-related issues, the answer begins with listening to your body and understanding what is – and what is not – par for the course… er… box.
For instance, if you’re starting to get so fatigued from your WOD that you cannot get up in the morning, you owe it to yourself to pull back. Similarly, if your muscles start to swell to the point that you cannot easily bend your arms or legs, you need to get a diagnosis. If you begin to stop urinating much even though you’re drinking water, that’s another “red flag” that something’s amiss.

Obviously, the first step to tackling a potential case of rhabdomyolysis is to scale back on any workouts until you’re healthy enough to participate again. Other treatment options such as going on a regimen to systematically replace electrolytes or even hospitalization may be prescribed depending on how far the condition has progressed.
Certainly, this doesn’t mean that every CrossFitter is at risk of rhabdomyolysis, nor does it mean that you’re doomed to encounter the syndrome any time soon. It’s simply another reason to remember that precautions must always be taken whenever you are entering into extreme physical activity.

Your body is a wondrous machine; nonetheless, it needs to be taken care of. If you need to scale back on the number of WODs you do in a week just to get back in the groove of things, so be it. The box – and your supportive CrossFit buddies – will always be waiting for you tomorrow!

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