For my STEAM project I will be looking at exercise induced rhabdomyolysis (exRML) and compartment syndrome. Exercise induced rhabdomyolysis is a pathophysiological condition of the skeletal muscle system that can cause acute renal failure and in some cases death. The class objectives related to this are: 1.) know the different energy molecules in the cell and their use in anaerobic and aerobic exercise. 2.) describe how a muscle contraction is induced. These objectives pertain because exRML is caused by and increase of Ca2+  levels in cells because of the depletion of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Rhabdomyolysis and compartment syndrome was first recognized in1940-1941 in patients with crush injuries caused by building destruction during World War II. It is most commonly found in crush and burn injuries where the muscle has been directly injured but other causes of RML have also been recognized including toxins, endocrinopathies, malignant hyperthermia, the medical conditions and overexertion. I am going to be focusing specifically on overexertion or exercise induces RML for my steam project.

Ca2+ has an important role in the Pathogenesis of exRML. Numerous studies have shown an increased level of Ca2+  in patients with exRML. Increased Ca2+ has been reported in the sarcoplasm of exRML patients with deficiency or depletion of ATP due to intensity of exercise. ATP is continually produced during exercise and when ATP is depleted ATP-dependent ion transporters may be affected. The increase of Na+ and K+ that happen when there is an action potential is dependent of ATP so when there is not enough ATP it can cause a disfunction of the Na+ – K+ ATPase resulting in increased levels of Na which causes the cell to produce more Ca2+  and this disfunction of the Ca2+ pump is what they think causes RML. The increased level of Ca2+  damages the phospholipids of the cell membrane which causes toxicity to the cell and cell death. Death of muscular tissues may create additional space for increased accumulation of intravascular fluid which causes compartment syndrome. And the toxicity of the blood enters the circular system and can cause renal failure and death. 

I read a number of case studies one where a Soldier got fatal exRML with Compartment syndrome in both legs after an Army physical fitness test and another where a number of high school football players developed exRML and triceps compartment syndrome following an upper arm exercise. From 2008 to 2015 19 confirmed cases of exRML were reported in wildland firefighters with five of those cases developing into compartment syndrome. It became such an important issue in wildland fire that the U.S. Forest service issued an eighteen page report just on the issue.

For my STEAM project I made a model of a lower leg made of wet felted wool and yarn showing a leg with compartment syndrome. When a patient develops compartment syndrome, besides aggressive fluid therapy, the patient may require a deep fasciotomy to open the compartments and relieve the pressure that is reducing circulation in the leg. In my model you can see the fasciotomy and the swelling of the muscles that is caused by RML. Symptoms of exRML include muscle pain developing hours after exercise peaking between 24 to 48 hours post exercise, cramping, swelling, weakness, stiffness and decreased range-of-motion, nausea or vomiting, fever, rapid hear rate, confusion or lack of consciousness, and tea or Coca-Cola colored urine. I also included in my model a glass of dark urine to remind people of one of the most common sign of RML. Heat stress and heat stroke are possible contributing factors of RML as well as the use of dietary supplements such as creatine snd hydroxycut. Creatine in particular which is used by many weight lifters has been found to be a major risk factor.


Coban, Y. K. (2014). Rhabdomyolysis, compartment syndrome and thermal injury. World Journal of Critical Care Medicine, 3(1), 1–7. 

Kim, J., Lee, J., Kim, S., Ryu, H. Y., Cha, K. S., & Sung, D. J. (2016). Exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis mechanisms and prevention: A literature review. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 5(3), 324–333. 

Kuklo, T. R., Tis, J. E., Moores, L. K., & Schaefer, R. A. (2000). Fatal rhabdomyolysis with bilateral gluteal, thigh, and leg compartment syndrome after the Army Physical Fitness Test. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(1), 112–116. 

Minnema, B. J., Neligan, P. C., Quraishi, N. A., Fehlings, M. G., & Prakash, S. (2008). A case of occult compartment syndrome and nonresolving rhabdomyolysis. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 23(6), 871–874. 

Oh, J. Y., Laidler, M., Fiala, S. C., & Hedberg, K. (2011). Acute exertional rhabdomyolysis and triceps compartment syndrome during a high school football camp. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 4(1), 57–62. 

West, M., Domitrovich, J., & Symonds, J. (2018). Rhabdomyolysis in Wildland Fire A review of reported cases. Wildfire Today. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from 

rhabdomyolysis and compartment syndrome

One Comment

  1. The objectives that were focused on were the induction of a muscle contraction as well as explaining the different energy molecules involved in the cell during anaerobic and aerobic exercise. This project focused on how the amount of Calcium that is in the cell is due to a decrease in ATP and how it leads to Rhabdomyolysis (exRML) and Compartment Syndrome. This condition is seen in patients that have either experienced severe injury to the muscle for example crush and burn injuries. The target patients that have been diagnosed with this condition are firefighters and football players, since they are more likely to have the type of injury that is related to exRML. This condition happens because of a decrease of ATP which is an energy source for an action potential that depends on it. This will cause problems on the enzyme that regulates sodium and potassium, resulting in an increase in sodium in the cell which will signal the cell to produce more calcium. This will create a cascade of issues in the muscle cells or the death of this tissue.

    As illustrated the muscle in the lower leg has become swollen creating a lot of fluid buildup and pressure. This seems to be seen in people who do exercise and have experienced an injury like state previously. Some of the symptoms to look out for are pain in the muscle, nausea, vomiting, fever, dark urine, fast heart rate etc.

    This was a very interesting STEAM project, I had never heard of it until now. It is very good to know what the side effects are and what leads up to. I find it interesting the connection between the type of injury previously obtained by patients that are diagnosed with this condition.

    Dianna Puga

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