Thirteen University of Iowa football players were recently hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle disorder.
The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine defines it as follows:
"Destruction of muscle tissue accompanied by the release of the oxygen-carrying red muscle pigment myglobin into the blood."
It goes on to say the disorder "usually causes temporary paralysis or weakness of the affected muscle."
The cause is reportedly strenuous exercise, though this has not been officially confirmed.
The Iowa program has never had something like this happen, even though the players' workouts were no more challenging than in the past, in the opinion of director of football operations Paul Federici.
"A former athletic trainer, Federici said he’s never seen the syndrome among student-athletes at Iowa before. He said he was still looking into the details of the workouts but said they were no different than those from previous years during what he called a critical seven-week stretch of training."
This many people contracting the disorder simultaneously is indeed highly uncommon.
"I don't think I've seen 13 people get [it]. This cluster, I guess, would be unusual," said University of Iowa doctor John Stokes, who is not involved in the case.
The AMA Encyclopedia states "excessive physical exercise" is "rarely" the cause of rhabdomyolysis.
There have been reported cases of the disorder in which the afflicted person had engaged in grueling exercise but was also using steroids.
For example, one medical case study discussed a bodybuilder who was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis in his right deltoid. He had injected "stanozolol, an anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS), into his right deltoid muscle on the same day."
In addition, a dancer who had rhabdomyolysis in his thigh and calf had injected Primobolan into his thigh a few days prior, according to Iron Man Magazine.
Furthermore, there are a wide variety of drugs (medicinal and illicit) that have been linked with rhabdomyolysis.
An ESPN.com report on an Iowa press conference mentions the potential drug link.
"The use of drugs and food supplements can contribute to rhabdomyolysis, although it's too soon to tell if that happened in the cases of these players."
Of course, there is no easy way to explain this many people contracting the same disorder at once.
Most of the players have not been identified. One who has been named is Jim Poggi, a first-year linebacker.
Before Poggi's problems started, he had undergone a workout "that involved performing 100 squats in a certain amount of time and pulling a sled 100 yards," writes Foley.
Another hospitalized player, Shane DiBona, described his workout and reaction on Facebook, according to a report on ESPN.com.
"I had to squat 240 pounds 100 times and it was timed. I can't walk and I fell down the stairs..."
It seems the players' workout regimen undoubtedly played a role in this strange occurrence. It just goes to show that players and coaches alike need to more careful regarding workouts and more aware of the dangers they pose. They also need to realize when enough is enough.
The players are all said to be doing well, though it is not yet known when they will be able to leave the hospital.