Last month I was in the best shape of my life. Until that all changed…
My name is Molly and I consider myself a fit and healthy 30 year-old-woman. I am an avid soccer player and workout regularly in the gym.
One hot Friday this summer my arms were feeling pretty sore after an especially tough Crossfit workout. I drank some extra water, but shook it off as the normal after effects of an intense day at the gym. I continued with my normal life, and played in my regularly scheduled soccer game on Sunday.
Monday morning I woke up with huge, swollen, tight arms. I did a quick Google search of “swollen arms after a workout” and this weird name popped up: Rhabdomyolysis (or rhabdo for short).
Basically it is the rapid break down of muscle fibers and the release of too many toxins into the blood stream. It can happen after running a marathon, getting into a car accident, or having an extremely tough work out.
Symptoms include extreme muscle weakness, swelling, and dark or tea-colored urine. The most serious complication is kidney failure. Early recognition and management of rhabdo are crucial to a successful outcome.
My Google search freaked me out enough that I decided to go to the local urgent care. Let’s just say, they were stumped! They tried to tell me I had two sprained elbows and I should go home and take ibuprofen (thank goodness I did not do this!). Instead I asked for a blood test incase I had this weird thing called rhabdo-something that I read about. The doctor looked at me like I had completely lost it and said, “I highly doubt you have that, but I’ll appease you”. Later that afternoon the doctor called me back. My blood test results were in. Normal CK (Creatine kinase) levels are between 100-300. Mine had maxed out the lab at more than 16,000. That’s right, thousand. The doctor said, “You were right! You have rhabdomyolysis and you need to be admitted to the hospital immediately. Should we send an ambulance?”
I spent the next four days in the hospital, hooked up to bags and bags of IV fluids to flush out the muscle breakdown, and avoid kidney failure. Basically I was peeing away my muscles. Most doctors and nurses had never heard of this. I felt like I was on a bad episode of “House”.
During this time I met with specialists and researched my own diagnosis. But most importantly, I re-evaluated my priorities. I have two young, amazing children and a loving, supportive husband. They are my life. The outpouring of support from my friends and family were overwhelming. Yes, I love working out and staying fit, but this suddenly did not seem so important. I just wanted to be OK.
Finally my CK levels were healthy enough for me to go home. My doctors told me how lucky I am, and I know that they are right, in far more than just a medical sense.
Now I don’t know why I got rhabdo while millions of people who have done similar workouts have not gotten it. I do know that I have changed because of it. I approach workouts differently with a bigger focus on recovery. And I want to inform and educate other athletes about the risks and symptoms of this scary diagnosis.
Rhabdomyolysis is rare, but it is becoming more common with the popularity of intense exercise programs. I am not going to single out any certain program, as I do believe it could happen to any athlete, regardless of the sport. My hope is that gyms and fitness programs will educate their members about rhabdo, but we also need to educate ourselves.
We, as a culture, are pushing ourselves past our physical limits. We are starting to believe that we aren’t getting a good workout unless we finish feeling completely exhausted. We aren’t giving ourselves enough time to rest and recover. We are doing more harm than good.
Please use my story as a warning when you exercise. Listen to your body. Know your limits. Rest between workouts. Hydrate. And most importantly, take care of yourself. -- Molly Talevi