While there’s no doubt it can feel good good to get a vigorous workout in — and exercise is super important to maintaining good health to boot — it is possible to work out too much, and the consequences can be pretty scary. Rhabdomyolysis (or rhabdo, for short) is a rare but life-threatening condition that causes degeneration of muscle tissues, releasing a potentially kidney-damaging protein from the damaged muscle fibers into the bloodstream. Recently, a Texas teen was diagnosed with the condition after working out too hard, and it’s a reminder to all of us to pay attention to our bodies when they're in pain, and to approach our workout routines with care.
Jared Shamburger, 17, developed rhabdomyolysis after starting a weight-training routine at his local gym, according to ABC affiliate KTRK, which originally reported the story. Shamburger reportedly began experiencing severe muscle pain and swelling after a 90 minute workout. “Everything hurt. It hurt to the touch. It was swollen,” Shamburger told KTRK. When the muscle soreness and swelling didn’t go away, his mother started researching his symptoms, and got in touch with the family doctor who had Jared hospitalized for five days with a rhabdo diagnosis, KTRK reports.
WebMD notes that the signs and symptoms of rhabdo can be tough to spot; the development of the illness depends on what’s causing the muscle breakdown and whether it’s linked to injury, overexertion, or infection. Symptoms can include muscle pain and weakness, and dark red or brown urine. WebMD also reports that half of those who develop the condition might not show any obvious symptoms, making it super important to be in tune with your body in these circumstances. KTRK also notes that rhabdo can be caused by injury or infection, not just from working out too hard.
What makes the illness different from muscle strain is the potential for complications. Complications can happen at any stage of the illness, and symptoms may affect the entire body, or just one area of it. Classic symptoms include muscle pain or weakness in the arms and legs, shoulders, thighs, and lower back, and some folks develop mobility problems. If decreased urination occurs, especially if urine turns dark red or brown, definitely see your doctor asap. WebMD also reports that additional symptoms can include fever, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, increased heart rate, and confusion and dehydration, while kidney injuries are the most common complication, according to Self. In extreme cases, the illness can even be fatal. Fortunately, Shamburger is expected to make a full recovery, according to KTRK.
While it's a rare illness, it is dangerous, and those who engage in more extreme workouts — like marathon running, crossfit, or even advanced spin classes, need to make sure the body is ready for more strenuous or demanding exertion before leveling up their physical challenges. If you haven’t worked out in a while, or ever, take the time to build up strength and endurance before taking on more strenuous activities.
If you're concerned about your fitness practice after this news, have no doubt that exercise is still a good thing, and challenging the body in order to gain more strength and endurance can be done in healthy ways. Just be mindful that you’re not exceeding your personal capacity or fitness level, and stop if you’re starting to push past your physical limits. Self also notes that staying hydrated is a key way to avoid rhabdo, and some medications and caffeine can up the chances of developing it. When in doubt, back off on exerting yourself, drink a bunch of water, and talk to your doctor about any medications you might be taking.