The Grapevine

What Is Rhabdomyolysis? Teen Diagnosed With Muscle Tissue Breakdown After Intense Workout

Feeling sore after exercising is usually a good sign, signifying that the muscles are getting stronger. But in this case, it was a sign of pushing too hard and going beyond safe limits. After just one intense workout session, a teenager from Texas was recently diagnosed with a dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis. 

Jared Shamburger, 17, obtained a gym membership along to follow the footsteps of his father and brother who were both longtime lifters. But after a 90-minute weightlifting session, Shamburger recalled feeling extremely sore, to the point where he believed something was wrong. 

"Everything hurt. It hurt to the touch. It was swollen," he said.

His mother looked up the symptoms on the internet and found a condition named rhabdomyolysis (or rhabdo) which shared similar symptoms to what Shamburger was experiencing.

"The mama bear in me kind of took over and I called the pediatrician and said, 'I really think my son has rhabdo,'" she said.

The condition causes a breakdown of damaged skeletal muscle, a process which can release harmful proteins into the bloodstream. The protein, known as myoglobin, breaks down into substances that can damage kidney cells and potentially lead to kidney damage. The damaged muscles could also leak several ions and enzymes, capable of disrupting heart rhythms, causing dangerously low calcium levels, and other problems.

According to estimates, around 26,000 cases of the syndrome are reported in the United States each year.

Rhabdomyolysis is triggered by muscle injury which may be physical or genetic in nature. According to WebMD, it can be caused by accidents, a burn or electric shock injury, venomous bites, alcohol or illegal drug use, infections, use of certain medications, etc.

Dark, tea-colored urine is a symptom of the condition because of the effect of the protein on the kidney. Other signs include muscle weakness, low and infrequent urination, fatigue, soreness, bruising, fever, nausea, confusion, rapid heart rate, and vomiting.

Shamburger was hospitalized for five days, diagnosed with the condition which may have been triggered by his sudden, intense workout. Since it was identified early, he is expected to make a full recovery without lasting damage to the kidney. In rare cases, the syndrome can be life-threatening.

"If he hadn’t caught it, if he hadn’t told me, if we had just gone out of town about our way," his mother said. "I can’t even imagine. And I don’t want to, about what could have happened."

Treatment includes IV fluids to eradicate the harmful protein and prescribed medications if required for kidney functioning. But if the organ has already suffered damage, the patient may require dialysis.

To reduce the risk of rhabdomyolysis, sports medicine specialist Dr. David Geier emphasized on fluid intake and avoiding extremely hot environments for the workout.

"Drink fluids regularly before, during and after your workout," he said. "Slowly increase your intensity and the duration of workouts over weeks or months. Cut back on your workouts when you’re taking anti-inflammatory medications or if you are recovering from an illness."