Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 12, 2021

Are you feeling muscle pains or cramps that don’t seem to go away?

If it’s been a few weeks since your last workout and you still feel stiff, it may not be something to just overlook.

In some cases, sore muscles can be a sign of a more severe condition like a disease, muscle injury, or serious muscle damage.

That’s why we’ve spent hours delving into what exactly a creatine kinase test is and how it could potentially save your life.

What Is a Creatine Kinase Test?

medical person looking raising and looking closely through a blood vial

A creatine kinase (CK) test is a medical procedure used to determine the amount of creatine phosphokinase (CPK) present in the blood.

Creatine phosphokinase is an enzyme (aka protein) found in our muscle tissue.

This includes the skeletal muscles (CK-MM), brain (CK-BB), and heart (CK-MB).

In normal circumstances, an individual will have small amounts of CK-MM, CK-BB, and CK-MB protein in their blood.

When excessive amounts of any of these isoenzymes are discovered in the bloodstream, they can be singled out to determine what may be the root cause of a problem.

For example, take an individual with higher than normal CK-BB levels who finds it difficult to recall what they did in the last few days; there is a good chance this person suffers from a brain trauma which should be further investigated.

How Is a Creatine Kinase (CK) Test Performed?

A creatine phosphokinase test is performed by inserting a small needle into a vein in your arm.

From there, a small amount of blood sample is extracted into a vial, where it is sent to the lab for further testing.

Why Would Someone Need a CPK Test?

woman holding her nape in pain

An individual might require a CPK test if they experience long-lasting muscle soreness or pains that don’t seem to go away.

This is primarily a concern if they've recently engaged in intense physical activity such as contact sports.

Your healthcare provider often uses a creatine kinase test to diagnose chest pain, muscle injury, or disease, with the most common ones being muscular dystrophy and rhabdomyolysis.

Muscular Dystrophy

man holding his thighs in pain

According to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, muscular dystrophy is a muscle disease inherited from birth caused by abnormal gene mutations that interfere with the body’s ability to create healthy muscles.

Over time, this disease results in progressive muscle weakness and can lead to problems such as:

  • loss of balance,
  • muscle cramps and pains,
  • numbness or tingling sensations,
  • and issues contracting or relaxing certain muscle groups.

Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is not a disease, but it is caused by direct or indirect muscle damage and injury.

Trauma-related causes include crush injuries, falls, and venomous bites, and non-trauma-related causes include seizures, heat stroke, strenuous exercise, and infections [1].

In circumstances where muscle damage is severe, muscle cells can die and release their contents into the bloodstream.

This can lead to serious diseases such as kidney failure, where the kidneys are unable to function properly and filter out waste. In rare cases, this can lead to death if not properly treated.

Common symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include muscle pain in the lower back, thighs, or shoulders, muscle weakness in their limbs, and dark red or brown urine, as well as less frequent urination.

What Causes CPK Levels to Rise?

bearded man experiencing chest pains

Total CPK levels can rise due to skeletal muscle injury, strenuous exercise, and heart attacks. Other causes include alcohol withdrawal (delirium tremens) and as a side effect of certain supplements or medications such as statins and amphotericin B.

1. Skeletal Muscle Injury

Individuals that suffer from muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophy and rhabdomyolysis, and:

“Individuals who regularly participate in high-volume, intense exercise, tend to have significantly raised base levels of serum CK [test results] compared to sedentary and moderately exercising individuals... this suggests that [test results for] CK flux into the serum is a natural and normal [set of changes accompanying] regular exercise. [2]” - Marianne F. Baird, Associate Researcher

Additionally, participating in strenuous exercise that results in severe muscle damage can increase levels of CK, such as a hernia or torn tendons.

2. Heart Damage

hands in surgical gloves holding a small heart toy

In circumstances where the heart muscle is injured, the heart fibers may pour into the bloodstream.

This results in a spike in CK levels due to the fact that the heart is a major organ that is responsible for many bodily functions.

If left untreated, prolonged heart muscle injuries or heart damage can lead to complications such as a heart attack or stroke.

3. Brain Injury

While the brain is not considered part of the muscles, its cellular structure is similar enough to be treated as one.

As a result, CK levels can rise in individuals that suffer from brain damage.

For example, in a study of twelve patients that suffered a severe brain injury, traces of CK-BB were present in the bloodstream of eight patients [3].

In some cases, the levels of CK may not peak until two days after its cause, making it difficult for your healthcare provider to detect any abnormalities.

How Can You Lower Your CK levels?

white man chugging water from a blue jug

CK levels can be lowered by participating in exercise, drinking plenty of fluids, and refraining from activities that cause it to rise.

According to studies, researchers found that individuals that engaged in the regular exercise had lower CK levels, such as military recruits [4].

This is why doctors recommend people who are at risk of a heart attack to undergo regular exercise on a consistent basis.

By lowering CK values, it prevents the possibility of a heart attack and other health complications.

However, if CK levels are already elevated, one should avoid exercise for at least seven days.

Drinking plenty of fluids is another method of reducing high CK values.

As high amounts of this enzyme may cause kidney failure, drinking water can help to flush out excessive CK and aid kidney functions.

Lastly, as medications and supplements can increase CK levels, refraining or reducing intake can help lower CK values.

FAQs

How To Test Creatine Kinase Levels?

CK levels can be tested in person through your healthcare provider or by an online blood test.

They can also be tested through lab tests online. To test for CK levels online, the patient would need to obtain a blood sample, then proceed to send it to a lab of their request.

How Long Do CK Test Results Take?

On average, one can expect CK test results within 1-2 days or longer, depending on delays.

Is a CK Test Painful?

Patients that test levels for CK may feel a minor sting when the needle is inserted into their arm.

For many, the psychological fear of needles will be more of an issue than the actual pain itself.

Call Your Healthcare Provider And Take A CK Test Today

A CK testing is more than just a blood test; it’s a method of discovering serious underlying issues that could easily be overlooked otherwise.

Diseases such as muscular dystrophy or seemingly innocent muscle injuries are a silent killer, as their effects occur over a long period of time.

Left untreated, these conditions can become a serious health problem that impacts a person’s everyday well-being and emotional state.

Through a CK test, healthcare professionals can diagnose a patient, allowing them to discover and prevent complications before they worsen.

In some cases, it may even save a patient's life.

If you’re worried about aching pains or lasting soreness that may signify more serious complications, contact your health care provider for medical advice or get a CK test done today. Have you taken a CK test before? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


References:

  1. https://labtestsonline.org/tests/creatine-kinase-ck
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3263635/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC492030/
  4. https://www.swedish.org/~/media/Images/Swedish/CME1/SyllabusPDFs/NeuroUpdate17/Liou%20%20Approach%20to%20a%20patient%20with%20elevated%20CK.pdf

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