Background: The serum concentration of creatine kinase (CK) is used widely as an index of skeletal muscle fibre damage in sport and exercise. Since athletes have higher CK values than non-athletes, comparing the values of athletes to the normal values established in non-athletes is pointless. The purpose of this study was to introduce reference intervals for CK in athletes.
Method: CK was assayed in serum samples from 483 male athletes and 245 female athletes, aged 7–44. Samples had been obtained throughout the training and competition period. For comparison, CK was also assayed in a smaller number of non-athletes. Reference intervals (2.5th to 97.5th percentile) were calculated by the non-parametric method.
Results: The reference intervals were 82–1083 U/L (37°C) in male and 47–513 U/L in female athletes. The upper reference limits were twice the limits reported for moderately active non-athletes in the literature or calculated in the non-athletes in this study. The upper limits were up to six times higher than the limits reported for inactive individuals in the literature. When reference intervals were calculated specifically in male football (soccer) players and swimmers, a threefold difference in the upper reference limit was found (1492 vs 523 U/L, respectively), probably resulting from the different training and competition demands of the two sports.
Conclusion: Sport training and competition have profound effects on the reference intervals for serum CK. Introducing sport-specific reference intervals may help to avoid misinterpretation of high values and to optimise training.
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