Rhabdomyolysis, a medical condition originally known as ‘crush syndrome’, recently struck 13 football players at the University of Iowa after some grueling workouts following winter break. According to Yahoo! Sports, something very similar happened to seven University of South Carolina swimmers in 2007.

It’s unusual for the condition to occur in large clusters.

Because these student-athletes were affected at the same time, after the same workout, this could be an example of what can happen from negligent personal training or sports conditioning.

Dr. Rupert Galvez, who treated the South Carolina swimmers and wrote a paper about the case, cautioned coaches against the dangers of rhabdomyolysis (a.k.a. “rhabdo”), which describes the breakdown of muscle tissue from a variety of causes, such as:

  • Traumatic injury, including crush injuries
  • Heart attack and stroke
  • Overexertion

In the two cases of these student-athletes, rhabdo arose from overexertion-under the direction of their coaches, they worked out too strenuously after a long period of rest and little exercise. Their bodies were not physically prepared to handle it.

Symptoms of rhabdo typically include brown-colored urine and deep muscle soreness. The broken down muscle tissue passes through the bloodstream and into the kidneys, which typically have great difficulty processing it. The worst cases of rhabdo can lead to kidney failure if not properly treated.

Iowa football director Paul Federici said the workouts were “strenuous and ambitious,” according to Yahoo! Sports, but that they weren’t uncommon compared to other workouts, so it’s not clear exactly why these student-athletes were affected.

Galvez isn’t sure either, given that some student-athletes came down with rhabdo and others did not.

Earlier we wrote about being careful when exercising strenuously, which can lead to exercise-induced rhabdo, especially if you haven’t worked out for an extended period of time. While an athlete or trainee is ultimately responsible for his or her own health, sports and conditioning programs should be aware of exercise-induced rhabdo and take reasonable precautions against it.

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