4 Things You Didn’t Know About Rhabdomyolysis (aka Rhabdo)


A few years ago, a weird-sounding condition called rhabdomyolysis got a lot of attention as a scary—and possibly lethal—side effect of very intense workouts, like CrossFit. If you were into this kind of thing, you may have gotten a little nervous. If not, you probably moved on with your life. 

But in July, The New York Times reported on an increase in cases of rhabdomyolysis from spin class, bringing it back into the limelight. What was once a condition reserved in people’s minds for the most hardcore has now left us all wondering: “Could it happen to me?”

Rhabdomyolysis, also known as rhabdo, is essentially muscle breakdown. When you exercise, some muscle breakdown is normal, and part of the process of getting stronger, explains Nayan Arora, M.D., a nephrology fellow at the University of Washington.

When people overstress their muscles, they are at risk for the muscle tissue breaking down so much that it releases the protein myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is toxic to the kidneys, which is why rhabdo can lead to kidney damage or complete kidney failure if left untreated, Arora explains.

While rhabdo is serious—and seriously terrifying—it’s still pretty rare, he says. That means you shouldn’t let it stop you from exercising—but you should have it on your radar. Here are four things that you need to know about rhabdomyolysis.

Read the Right as Rain by UW Medicine article