Weekend Warrior Beware: "Uncle Rhabdo" is no laughing matter


Exertion-related rhabdomyolysis—aka “rhabdo” —is a condition that is becoming a concern among the general public with the trend toward extreme exercise and high intensity training. Awareness is the key to preventing this very serious and sometimes life-threatening risk of over-exertion.

What is Rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood. (This definition is taken from the National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health website ).

The muscle content breaks down into proteins and enzymes such as Creatine Kinase (CK), which are harmful to the kidney and can cause liver damage and even liver failure.

There are other causes of rhabdomyolysis such as a crushing trauma, a motor vehicle accident, or workplace injury. Exertion-related “rhabdo” is connected to sudden, extreme exertion. So, weekend warriors beware.

Symptoms of Rhabdomyolysis

• Acute pain
• Swelling
• Red, or cola-coloured urine
• Weakness
• Stiffness

Other symptoms can include fatigue, seizures, extreme joint pain or swelling. See a doctor if you are experiencing abnormal pain, weakness or fatigue after a work out. Seek immediate medical attention if your urine is dark, or if you experience acute, sharp pain or intense swelling after an strenuous workout.

Managing Fitness Expectations

Rhabdomyolysis is rare among experienced athletes who know their capacity. At higher risk are athletes new to extreme exercise or people who jump into an intense exercise regime without adequate preparation.

Here’s a few examples:

  • returning to a weight-lifting program after a hiatus
  • training for a 5k race and entering a half-marathon
  • signing up for a fitness class at a level higher than you are ready for

So, if you have a desk-job, rip an exercise program off of the internet and then sign up for a Tough Mudder or Death Race you could land yourself in some serious trouble.

“Rhabdo” is completely preventable. However, individuals are sometimes not the best at self-monitoring when it comes to crossing the line of pushing hard to pushing too hard.

It’s important to understand that change in fitness does not happen overnight. Gaining muscle strength and improving fitness levels takes time.

No laughing matter

Training intensely is not inherently bad. It can be very good with the right supervision, information and guidance. However, in some extreme fitness cultures, “rhabdo” is a kind of badge of honour. But “Uncle Rhabdo,” (a cartoon of a clown hooked up to a dialysis machine with his kidneys dragging on the floor) and Pukey the Clown are not so funny if you wind up needing dialysis for the rest of your life, and not funny at all if you die.

A good trainer or class leader is informed about the causes and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and will not push individuals beyond their limits. They constantly monitor their clients and participants to assess their well-being. They know the difference between pushing hard and pushing too hard.

Related articles

Global News:Doctors Warn of Rhabdo

CBC: McMaster doctor warns of the perils of extreme fitness

FTC Publications Video Sudden extreme exercise risks

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