What Is Rhabdomyolysis and How Can You Prevent It?


Have you ever wondered if too much of a good thing can be bad for you? Have you ever worked out to the point of extreme exhaustion and experienced severe prolonged muscle aches? How hard is too hard and how much is too much?

Those questions are very important as our muscles are constantly being broken down and repaired by our workouts. Sometimes too much of a good thing, like working out under the wrong conditions or to excess, can actually be harmful for your body. 

When we exercise appropriately, our muscles will be fatigued and slightly broken down, and will have to repair and recover. Working out excessively, or in extremely hot conditions, without taking in enough water for muscle hydration, can actually result in muscle injury to the point of muscle damage.

Damaged muscle cells can open up and dump the contents of the muscle cell into your blood stream. The muscle breakdown products can be toxic to your kidneys and can cause serious consequences as your kidneys are the organs that serve to clear toxins out of your blood. When kidneys are damaged by the products that are contained within your muscle cells, toxins can build up in your body and have serious consequences, such as issues with your heart rhythm, and can upset the delicate acid base balance that your body must maintain in order to function properly.

There are other causes of rhabdomyolysis or muscle damage such as:

  • Crush injuries where the muscles are crushed and the cells of the muscle or broken
  • Compression events can occur when laying in one position too long as can happen if you are comatose or injured
  • Electric shock, lightning strikes or severe deep third-degree burns
  • Venomous snake bites from snakes such as rattlesnakes
  • Excessive use of drugs that are dehydrating like cocaine or amphetamines
  • Use of certain medications such as statins that are used to treat high cholesterol
  • Very high body temperatures that can occur from illness or exposure to high heat
  • Seizures
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Illnesses that can cause prolonged periods of high body temperature and dehydration

Signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis can include severe pain in your shoulders, legs and lower back, as well as extreme weakness or trouble moving arms or legs and dark brown colored or red urine with lower volume. Sometimes, however, you may not have any muscle aches but can still be experiencing rhabdomyolysis. Other symptoms can include, nausea, dizziness, fever, rapid heart rate and confusion.

The diagnosis of this condition can be done by your doctor with a physical exam and blood tests to check the level of your muscle enzyme called creatinine kinase, which is an indicator of muscle breakdown, and by checking your urine for myoglobin, which is a product contained within your muscle cells, as well as checking your kidney function. If your kidney function has been impacted, the levels of potassium can rise in your blood causing an irregular heartbeat, which can be life threatening. 

The treatment of rhabdomyolysis involves close monitoring of your heart rate and rhythm and usually requires hospitalization for intravenous hydration and monitoring of blood labs. The condition can be extremely serious. If you have any concerns that your body may have been under extreme conditions as mentioned, or you feel you may have overdone your workout and you don’t recover within a few hours as you normally would, a visit to your doctor or other healthcare provider might be needed for you to get your blood tested to ensure your muscles haven’t been damaged. Most of the time your body will recover from rhabdomyolysis as the causes of this condition are usually reversible. Your doctor can help to advise you on prevention in the future if you have experienced this illness and can advise you on how to recover quickly.

The bottom line is to listen to your body, stay hydrated while you work out, and ensure proper recovery and rest for your body to rebuild after your workout. Our bodies are very resilient. However, if you overdo a good thing, your body may be trying to tell you something if you haven’t been careful with what you ask of it sometimes. When in doubt, always check with your doctor.

Until next time, here’s to the best of your health.

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