By Rick Maese
Monday, August 23, 2010; D6
Albert Haynesworth's ongoing tiff with Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has reached multi-syllabic proportions, as team sources say the defensive lineman was sidelined last week with a mild case of rhabdomyolysis, a condition marked by the breakdown of skeletal muscle and the release of myoglobin in the bloodstream.
Haynesworth accused Shanahan of mischaracterizing his ailment as a mere headache, and three sources said Sunday that the team believes Haynesworth's symptoms were brought about by rhabdomyolysis, which caused Haynesworth to miss nearly three full days of practice last week.
Medical experts say that Haynesworth's ability to play in Saturday's game likely means he's recovered from the condition, often caused by muscle trauma or dehydration. They also warn, though, that the fact that Haynesworth was suffering from rhabdomyolysis might also indicate that he wasn't in proper shape to practice in the summer heat.
"It doesn't happen as often in well-conditioned athletes, but if there's really extreme circumstances - like extremely hot weather - then that could happen when you have large amounts of muscle breakdown," said Lynne P. Yao, chairman-elect of the National Kidney Foundation's board of directors.
Tony Wyllie, Redskins' senior vice president, said the team would not comment on Haynesworth until Shanahan addresses the media after practice Monday. But Shanahan spoke Sunday with AOL Fanhouse and said he was unaware of Haynesworth possibly having rhabdomyolysis and stresses that Haynesworth needs to be in top shape.
"One thing for sure that is clear to me is that Albert has gotten away in the past with playing without practicing,'' Shanahan said. "That will not happen under this regime. If he's going to play, he's going to practice, and that is the same with every player here. The days of him playing without practicing are over. And that, to me, says it all.''
Rhabdomyolysis causes the rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle because of injury to muscle tissue and the release of toxic myoglobin into the bloodstream. While severe cases can be fatal, if rhabdomyolysis is detected quickly, Yao said it can be treated with "aggressive hydration to dilute the urine and flush the myoglobin from the kidneys."
"Exertion and hot conditions exacerbate the problem, but in most mild cases, people recover in a week or two," she said.
Haynesworth's symptoms, which included swelling of the hands and feet, nausea, headaches and vomiting, were not at the extreme end of the spectrum, and he recovered in time to take part in Saturday's preseason game with the Ravens. However, because he missed practice time, he didn't play until the second half of the game with the reserves.
Shanahan discussed some of Haynesworth's symptoms last week, noting last Thursday that Haynesworth was sidelined with a headache, but he hasn't revealed an exact diagnosis.
Because Haynesworth felt the coach trivialized his ailments, he lashed out following Saturday's 23-3 loss to Baltimore, contending that the team is underplaying the severity of his medical condition and is still holding his absence during the offseason conditioning program against him.
"They act like I had a headache," Haynesworth said. "It was a lot more than that. I got out of a hot tub. I was dizzy. I threw up."
In speaking with reporters after the game, Haynesworth never mentioned Shanahan by name, but multiple team sources said the two-time all-pro's anger is directed at the head coach because Shanahan has described Haynesworth's condition as being "more of a headache than anything else." Haynesworth has declined to reveal specifics about the maladies that prompted him to cut short his participation in practice.
Rhabdomyolysis is often associated with muscle trauma that hampers kidney functions. People who experience severe physical injuries, such as car crashes, are more susceptible to rhabdomyolysis, experts say. According to the National Center for Health, there are approximately 26,000 reported cases of rhabdomyolysis a year, but it's not clear how many athletes suffer from the condition. Another Redskins player is believed to have suffered from it last season, according to one team source.
One expert said the condition could be underreported in sports, especially those involving physical contact and played in the heat. Because many team doctors specialize in orthopedics and not internal medicine, the diagnosis can be a difficult one.
"This is probably a more common condition among players in the NFL than people would recognize," said Bryan Becker, president of the National Kidney Foundation, "but it's just not tested for. . . . Athletes are susceptible if they have repeated trauma in the context of their athletic pursuit, but unless they have other symptoms, we probably don't necessarily look for it as much."
While Haynesworth appears to have fully recovered, his battle with Shanahan has only escalated. In an interview late Saturday after the game, Haynesworth expressed frustration about the way things have been characterized because he "just wants people to say the truth about what's going on. That's it. A headache? That's not what's going on."
While his latest round of comments have ruffled feathers at Redskins Park, one league source indicated that Haynesworth's postgame thoughts would not be enough to warrant punishment for conduct detrimental to the team. Still, damage has been done.
Several of Haynesworth's teammates simply shook their heads in disbelief when they learned of the latest dust up between Shanahan and Haynesworth. One defensive veteran who was aware of Haynesworth's condition said he understood why Haynesworth was upset, but also sided with Shanahan, noting that the coach would never reveal details about any player's medical condition to the media.
Another defensive player tired of the conflict said he could not understand why Haynesworth seemed to be upset. Many in the locker room believe the Redskins plan to start Haynesworth at right defensive end, his desired position in the team's new 3-4 scheme, and it just doesn't make sense for Haynesworth to continue inciting Shanahan, the player said.
Haynesworth's ire is no longer tied to the Redskins' defensive change. Barely midway through the preseason, his relationship with Shanahan is front and center.
"I know what type of player I am and what I can do," Haynesworth said in an interview late Saturday night. "I just want people to tell the truth."