Exercise-induced patholology

Exercise is not easy. Ask any unfit person that wants to turn a new leaf, goes out and run a 5km. One feels good after completing that distance. But afterwards, pain sets in, your muscles become stiff and sore,  the typical delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS for short).

What is described above is not caused by lactate buildup (the myth has been busted), but actually by small muscle tears that cause the content of the muscle fibres to leak into the blood stream, such as creatine kinase and myoglobin. Inflammation also follows making the muscles feel tender. This response is normal for any mammal after exercise and our bodies adapt to these stresses quite quickly. Severe muscle damage and breakdown can lead to a condition collectively known as rhabdomyolysis.

The danger is that this rhabdomyolysis, if untreated, can lead to kidney damage by means of the myoglobin that clogs the renal filtration apparatus and eventually leads to renal failure and death. A definitive sign that rhabdomyolysis has set in is the appearance of dark coloured urine, ranging from light brown to very dark brown.

What causes rhabdomyolysis?

It seems that excessive exercise is the predominant factor that causes rhabdomyolysis. But, other factors can hasten and / or aggravate the severity of the muscle damage. Some include certain drugs (e.g. statins, alcohol, amphetamines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories), congenital metabolic myopathies, inflammatory myopathies, infections, toxins, and muscle injury. 

We aim to study as many cases of rhabdomyolysis in humans, wild animals and horses to better our understanding of the potential causes, diagnosis and prevention thereof. Our research focusses on trying to find out why muscle breaks down under certain stressful conditions, how it can be prevented and cured.