Strange Epidemic

In the last week, I’ve read two completely unrelated stories about two women who came down with one very rare but very serious medical condition while participating in the same activity. That’s the kind of coincidence I don’t like hearing about.

The condition: Rhabdomyolysis. I’ll let WebMD tell you more about it, emphasis mine:

Rhabdomyolysis is a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from a breakdown of muscle fibers and release of their contents into the bloodstream. This can lead to complications such as kidney (renal) failure. This occurs when the kidneys cannot remove waste and concentrated urine. In rare cases, rhabdomyolysis can even cause death. However, prompt treatment often brings a good outcome.

They go on to say that among the more common causes are “Extreme muscle strain, especially in someone who is an untrained athlete.” Think on that for a moment.

The activity is CrossFit. Here’s the story that started me thinking, and for balance here’s a rebuttal. While I was still digesting this bit, another article on CrossFit induced Rhabdo came across my RSS reader! What a horrible coincidence. For pity sake, they’ve nicknamed this potentially fatal syndrome Uncle Rhabdo! An excerpt from the original item:

A quick search of the Interwebs [sic] reveals copious amounts of information about rhabdo purveyed by none other than CrossFit trainers. Scouring the scientific literature in mainstream medical journals, however, reveals a only a few peer-reviewed papers. The science confirms that exertional rhabdomyolysis, as this form is sometimes referred to, is uncommon and normally reserved for the elite military trainee, ultra-endurance monsters, and for victims of the occasional psychotic football coach. Rhabdomyolysis isn’t a common condition, yet it’s so commonly encountered in CrossFit that they have a cartoon about it, nonchalantly casting humor on something that should never happen.

As you may have guessed from the rebuttal to article one, CrossFit people are passionate about it. I would love to link you to, say, a nice balanced Wikipedia page about CrossFit, but it “has been identified as posing a potential copyright issue….” Here’s some of their WODs, or Workout Of the Day. These are the ones Men’s Health considers the “most brutal.”

Yes, they do this stuff pretty much every day. Yes, they encourage beginners to join them, and the quality of training those beginners receive varies wildly according to the skills of the trainer. I’ve thought about doing it myself, but then I keep running into Youtube videos that convince me I want nothing to do with it, and not just this blooper reel — notice that some of these people are doing it in the gym where somebody should have corrected form. Do you really think these people received adequate training before trying to lift that? Maybe we should work on basic presses and lunges before trying a clean and jerk?? Look at these women being encouraged tokipp” — cheat! — at pull ups. I’d rather do 5 pull ups Tony’s way, Mark’s way, or Scooby’s way than 50 CrossFit’s way; healthier for my shoulders and back, and more honest too. I don’t have room in my life for “Uncle Rhabdo.”

So yeah, “untrained athlete” plus extreme workouts every day equals a high chance of injury.

Alert the media.