Supplement May Have Contributed to Compartment Syndrome in Oregon Footballers

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The Oregonian newspaper has reported that 18 high school football players from McMinnville High School in Oregon have been sickened following a recent practice session. Three have been diagnosed with compartment syndrome, a rare soft-tissue condition. While high heat, dehydration, and heavy exercise could all factor into the development of the condition, officials are also looking into the possibility of the use of a popular sports nutrition supplement called creatine.

Compartment Syndrome A Condition Common to Athletes

Compartment Syndrome is the compression of nerves, blood vessels and muscle inside a closed space within the body, usually in the lower leg and forearm. The swelling is usually associated with trauma to the area, but long-term (chronic) compartment syndrome can also be caused by repetitive activities such as running, which increases pressure. Left untreated, the condition can cause permanent damage.

Read: Focus on Football Injuries as School Starts

All of the Oregon players had an unusual presentation, in that the swelling was located in the upper arm affecting the triceps muscle. “There are only ten cases reports of upper extremity, of tricep compartment syndrome in the medical literature,” said CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton. “It is exceedingly rare.”

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The players were participating in a preseason workout on August 15th, in which the players were exercising in 115 F degree heat. Blood tests found elevated levels of the enzyme creatine kinase, or CK, which is released by muscles when they are injured. The three players diagnosed with compartment syndrome had creatine levels of more than 40,000 in their blood. A normal level is between 200 and 2000. High CK levels can lead to kidney failure if not properly treated.

Read: Shin Splints Are A Repetitive Injury

Although vigorous exercise can lead to elevated creatine kinase, the athletes may have also been using creatine dietary supplements, which is popular among adolescent athletes. While some research has found creatine to be beneficial for building lean muscle mass, some young athletes take the supplement at doses that are not consistent with scientific evidence and frequently exceed recommending loading and maintenance doses.

Published reports suggest that up to 50% of professional football players and 25% of professional basketball players consume creatine supplements. The substance is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for use by college athletes.

All of the McMinnville football players were in good condition after being given IV fluids. They were all expected to be released today.

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