Pushed to the Limits - A WTOL 11 Special Report

(Toledo News Now) - Chances are you've probably never heard of rhabdomyolysis. It's a big, intimidating word, with a scarier definition.

"Rhabdo is stripped, myo is muscle, lysis is breakdown," explained Dr. Renee Mason. "So rhabdomyolysis is rapid breakdown of muscle. When the muscle breaks down, the proteins from the muscle can enter the blood stream."

When those proteins from your muscles release into your blood stream, it can damage your kidneys.  You may notice your urine is the color of iced tea or cola.

"In about 15 percent of cases, it can progress into kidney failure," Dr. Mason said. "And so dialysis might become necessary."

CrossFit has been linked to rhabdo in recent months in mainstream media, but the truth is, you can get it from a variety of sources: car accidents, heat stroke, certain medications, and alcoholism.

And any source of overexertion.

Mason is a doctor who is also a certified fitness instructor, and owner of the Fitness Shack in Sylvania.

We've all done a good workout where you feel like your arms are Jell-O, and then later you get that delayed onset muscle soreness. But Dr. Mason explains that feeling persists in rhabdo, and keeps getting worse. The soreness doesn't go away, and the muscle stiffness gets worse. Then the muscles can start to swell significantly.

CrossFit trainers are actually educated on rhabdo and what to look out for.

"There are other extreme boot camps and exercise places where maybe rhabdomyolysis is not recognized," said Todd Ovall, owner of  LifeSport CrossFit in Toledo.

He says the focus on CrossFit as a cause for rhabdo is unfair.

"Rhabdo is noted in several collegiate programs to various sports from swimming to lacrosse to rugby to football," he pointed out. "Anything that's just high intensity, too much, too fast is going to do that."

If you think you're safe because you're sticking to the elliptical or treadmill, beware.

"I had a patient who developed rhabdo over the summer," Dr. Mason said. "She went on vacation, had extra time, she was working out on the treadmill by herself. After three days of working out on the treadmill, just really didn't feel well and spent the rest of her vacation in the hospital getting hydrated."

"It doesn't matter if your level's here and you push to here, or your level's here and you push to here," Ovall explained. "If you're doing more work than you previously did, then you're probably flirting with it."

If you seek medical attention early enough, you can likely avoid some of the more serious consequences, including surgery to reduce muscle swelling, and kidney failure.

But how do you know when you should see a doctor?

Dr. Mason says when you have swelling, worsening pain or joint soreness, and any urine changes then you should head to your doctor immediately.

Learn more about rhabdo here.

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