In today’s fitness culture, particularly at the start of a new year, there is a pressure on us all to be the best version of ourselves. But since when did ‘too much’ become ‘never enough’? Read how spin guru Rebekah Abdeen’s self-determination became self-annihilation and led her down a frightening road…
Rhabdomyolysis is real and it is likely the majority of people will have never heard of the condition. After her recent brush with ‘Rhabdo’, Rebekah has decided to shine a spotlight on the fact our workouts have gone too far, in more ways than one…
What is Rhabdomyolysis?
It’s a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from the death of muscle fibres, releasing their contents into the bloodstream (creatine kinase and myoglobin). This can lead to serious complications such as kidney and heart failure; In a nutshell, you’ve taken yourself so far beyond the point of failure, that your muscles are poisoning your body.
Causes of ‘Rhabdo’ include traumatic crush injuries, venom from snake bites and increasingly, extreme muscle strain – a common result of unmanageable and dangerous workouts.
I had subscribed to a class expecting it to be HIIT but in reality, it felt more like a Cross Fit WOD. Despite this style of workout being something I would never usually participate in but not wanting to be defeatist or cause an uncomfortable scene by walking out, I continued…
A combination of adrenaline, high expectation and perhaps unknowingly, external personal pressure, coincided with the prescription of an unmanageable workout that tipped me into the realms of extreme danger.
Twelve hours after the class, my gut suggested something wasn’t quite right and the usual DOMs effect of an intense workout seemed out of control. Both of my arms were dramatically increasing in size. The range of motion was becoming completely limited on an almost hourly basis and the sense of weakness across my entire body was debilitating. Nevertheless, I pushed through my daily tasks, hoping that by the following evening the repair process would commence…
The next day, any kind movement in my arms and shoulders was impossible. They were quite literally stuck at an angle and reaching in any direction was agonising, even to turn on the shower. I continued to drink water and took ibuprofen to reduce the ‘Michelin-man’ effect my arms were now rapidly undergoing, whilst also travelling on a flight from Zurich to London in the evening. The pain was so extreme that sleep deprivation ensued; completely restless and wondering how the next day would unfold, I began researching…
Through the powers of Dr. Google, it took no time at all to realise this was certainly not normal and I uncovered the condition of Rhabdomyolysis. I had always been aware that this was a risk mostly associated with elite athletes, particular marathon runners who can suffer from the same type of extreme muscle damage to their legs. Was it even remotely possible that this kind of damage could have occurred during a 60 minute class?
By Wednesday evening it was time to go to the hospital. I was deeply concerned, my heartbeat was irregular and no amount of frozen peas, cooling packs or ibuprofen could remedy the excruciating pain in my entire body. Even more concerning was that my urine had become a consistent shade of brown, suggesting my kidneys were struggling to excrete the creatine kinase and myoglobin, that I now fully believed were leaking out of my muscles at a rapid rate.
My husband and I were faced with the gruelling task of approaching a London A&E department at midnight but it had clearly become an emergency. After screening my blood for four hours, the Doctors, initially not understanding the relationship between my poor kidney function and ballooning body, finally diagnosed me with Rhabdomyolysis. It was serious. They immediately hooked me up with two aggressive isotonic IV’s, one running in each arm, in order to flush out as much toxicity from my body as possible. After twelve hours on the ward and having carried out a second round of blood tests, the hospital discharged me with the task of continuing the rehydration process.
The most frightening fact about all of this is, even three days after the workout, my CPK level (creatine kinase) was running at 45,000 IU/L. Just to give that some perspective, normal CPK level is considered to be 22-198 IU/L. The Doctors were shocked that this amount of muscle fibre damage could be induced in just 60 minutes, they had never witnessed a case so extreme.
The recovery period all in all has been roughly 6 weeks; no lifting, no physical exertion and a gradual reintroduction of more intense exercise. The weakness in my arms has been notable and until now, the strength required to carry out simple TRX exercises is inadequate.
For a fitness professional who in the last ten years has committed herself to the challenge of transforming the physical and mental approach to working out, it has been a horrific experience and one that caught me completely off guard.
But with every challenge, lies an opportunity and this was certainly one of looking inwardly. Constantly focused ahead, channeling the future at every step and covering as much ground as physically possible, in the little time that we have. Moving between countries, managing chaos and maintaining balance in all sides of life along the way, being the ‘best version of myself’; It’s all become too much and something must give.
There is no doubt that Rhabdomyolysis bears an equation. Stress, adrenaline and dehydration can all play a part in heightening the severity of the condition. That fear of giving up or intimidation in a class environment that is unwelcoming and confusing are also both dangerous components, no matter who you are. There is a responsibility on us all, trainers and class attendees alike, to offer support, care and attention when participating in any workout. It should never be about mindless or arrogant ‘savagery’ – for behaving in this way, will result in the eventual demise of our bodies.
I’m thankfully back on the bike in London, where I feel my greatest sense of empowerment and collective euphoria. It’s a space for like-minded people to come together, let-loose from the pressures of our society and achieve their fitness goals at the same time.
So to anyone reading this, for all those who suffer from setting the bar at cosmic proportions; remember to do what makes you feel good. Always listen to your gut. Don’t be afraid to say no and walk away. Take control of your mind and body and with the best intentions, question everything.
Hettie is the editor and co-founder of DOSE. A keen runner, she’s also partial to a blast of high-intensity and hot yoga. A country girl at heart, she divides her time between London and the lush rolling hills of North Devon. When she’s not jetting off on her next adventure, Hettie can be found in a candle-lit alcove with a laptop, a spaniel and a full bodied Malbec.