Rhabdomyolysis: Knowledge and prevention

Your health is very important to us. We do not only want to promote performance and appearance, but body and mind as a whole. Unfortunately, high intensity training methods such as Freeletics also come with some dangers that we want to make you aware of. One of these risks is rhabdomyolysis. This disease, in which parts of the muscles dissolve and lead to kidney failure, is indeed very rare. Only 1% of the diagnosed cases are caused by training, yet it is a very serious matter.

Anyone who is physically active, not only Free Athletes, should inform themselves about this topic in order to recognize the symptoms for themselves and others in case of emergency. 

What is Rhabdomyolysis and what happens?

Rhabdomyolysis refers to the disintegration of muscle fibers in skeletal muscle. That is to say, the muscle begins to dissolve. This releases large amounts of myoglobin, which reach the kidneys via the bloodstream where it can cause major damage, including acute renal insufficiency. In this case medical attention is absolutely and immediately necessary!

This disease can be caused by a variety of factors. A distinction is made between traumatic, non-traumatic, load-dependent and load-independent rhabdomyolysis. Load-dependent rhabdomyolysis may develop from muscle damage that has come from over-strenuous physical activity or overtraining.

Although this type of rhabdomyolysis is extremely seldom and represents only about 1% of the diagnosed cases – which is a relatively low risk – we want to point it out, since the health of our Free Athletes is our first priority!

If you suspect having Rhabdomyolysis, please print the pdf file attached to the bottom of this page and take it to your doctor.

How do I know if I am affected and what can I do then?

Besides nonspecific symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and severe fatigue (which can all be signs of other diseases), swollen, soft, aching muscles are the clearest indication. Physicians and affected patients report severe muscle pain, which is in form and intensity clearly different from muscle soreness. As a final clue, when the color of urine becomes red-brown, you should consult a doctor immediately. It is at this point that acute renal failure is imminent or may already have occurred. The progression of the disease cannot be stopped by the athlete himself, which is why home remedies such as drinking a lot of water do not help in this case.

In general, everyone who trains beyond their individual limit, i.e. overtraining and ignoring warning signs such as exceptionally strong fatigue and aching muscles, can be affected. In most cases this applies to unfit people or athletes who want to return to their previous activities after a long break. But even experienced Free Athletes may be at risk. When the body needs a break, then listen! Don´t be too ambitious when things are going wrong, and don’t feel like you need to give in to group pressure! If you have a reasonable suspicion that you are affected by rhabdomyolysis, please consult a doctor immediately. Here is a checklist that can help you and your doctor identify the disease faster.

How can I prevent it?

First off, don’t panic! As mentioned above, rhabdomyolysis caused by (over) training is extremely rare.
Advanced Free Athletes already know their body and its limits very well and should continually work on improvement by setting new and higher training stimuli on an ongoing basis. Smart training is the only way to strengthen your muscles and body as a whole, thus reducing the risk of this disease. Nevertheless, health always comes first! For this reason we would like to point out again that you should never exercise with very sore muscles. Working out with sore muscles could serious damage muscle fibers and could trigger a kind of trauma in them.

Instead, focus on sufficient regeneration and actively promote it. Sufficient and high-quality sleep together with a balanced diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals are the alpha and omega!

What to avoid in any case:

Training in conjunction with alcohol, drugs, (strong) medication or during an illness should be an absolute no-go for any Free Athlete. This combination not only significantly increases the risk for rhabdomyolysis, but still holds many more dangers to your health, which cannot always be estimated. You should also avoid steroids, anabolic substances or ominous “power boosters” from the internet, of which very little is known about the ingredients.

Take care not to exercise at extreme temperatures – no matter whether cold or warm. The burden on the entire body is simply too large in excessive heat or at temperatures well below zero. Besides possible circulatory problems, inflammation of the airways and development of acute illness, the extreme circumstances mean that the body cannot efficiently handle the training stimuli. This can lead to false reactions in the body, such as the breakdown of striated muscle.

In any case, with very sore muscles and at very extreme temperatures, exercise is no fun and so is best avoided.

However, the general rule is to listen to your body and your condition – always! As a Free Athlete it is particularly important to develop a certain awareness of your body and to always listen to your body, especially if it sends warning signals! Two of the most important and loudest warning signs are pain and severe exhaustion. They are the body’s way of telling us that its limit is reached – whether in training or even at rest. If you ignore these signals then you take a dangerous risk that is against the ideas behind Freeletics. Take training breaks if you need to, use your intelligence and quit if it is too much. But above all, if there are serious signs, go and see a doctor – better safe than sorry.

**Individual results may vary. Every person has unique experiences, exercise habits, and eating preferences, and will apply the given information according to their personal situation.

The services and information provided in the context of Freeletics and Freeletics services are neither medical nor a medical consultation. They neither represent a substitute for a medical examination or treatment. If you have any specific questions or doubts about health related matters, we recommend consulting a physician, physiotherapist, dietician or healthcare provider. Please also consider our health information in paragraph 4 of our Terms & Conditions.

Download the Rhabdomyolysis checklist here:

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