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A New Health Concern for Event Owners: ‘The CrossFit Disease’

1 May, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Event owners – who already know the importance of following concussion protocols and who are already on edge about unvaccinated athletes – just found another item to add to their list of concerns, and it’s a problem commonly associated with sports. In fact, its nickname is "the CrossFit Disease" and sometimes "The Spinning Disease," although it has also shown up in football and soccer players, as well as others.

Rhabdomyolysis (nicknamed rhabdo), a condition that involves the breakdown of muscle tissue which is then released into the bloodstream, usually happens after high-intensity workouts. Untreated, it can lead to kidney failure and, in some cases, death.

The disease is, unfortunately, getting a lot of press at the moment thanks to some high-profile cases. Former University of Oregon football player Doug Brenner sued the school, its former coach, its former strength trainer and the NCAA for negligence stemming from his January 2017 hospitalization following strenuous offseason workouts that resulted in rhabdomyolysis and subsequent injuries. Brenner was seeking $11.5 million.

The University of Houston, meanwhile, has seen multiple cases of rhabdo across different sports, several of which included hospitalizations. And in Nebraska, two Cornhusker football players were hospitalized for the ailment.

Rhabdo seems to present itself in conjunction with punishing workouts; it doesn’t seem to discriminate, either, occurring in both elite athletes as well as amateurs. The bottom line: pushing (or being pushed) too hard.

Marathon runners, for example, are noted by some physicians as having been diagnosed with rhabdo, but so have CrossFit enthusiasts who have pushed the envelope too much. In fact, it’s sometimes nicknamed “spinning disease” or “CrossFit disease.”

According to medical professionals, event owners should advise coaches, athletic trainers and other key personnel to be aware of the symptoms of rhabdo, which include:

  • muscle weakness
  • low urine output
  • fatigue
  • soreness
  • bruising
  • dark, tea-colored urine
  • infrequent urination
  • a fever
  • a sense of malaise, or feeling sick
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • agitation

According to WebMD, rhabdo may be initially difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms are general and could be attributed to multiple other problems such as concussion, heat exertion, food poisoning and more. However, the “classic triad” of rhabdomyolysis symptoms are: muscle pain in the shoulders, thighs, or lower back, muscle weakness or trouble moving arms and legs, and dark red or brown urine or decreased urination. Keep in mind that half of people with the condition may have no muscle-related symptoms.

Since many problems can share symptoms, it is essential to treat affected athletes without delay. Professionals note that all on-site medical professionals should be prepped on the possibility of rhabdo – as well as other problems, and that any athletes who appear to be suffering ill effects during or after sports should receive prompt medical attention.

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