The American Journal of Medicine recently reported on a 33-year old woman who, starting the day after her first spin class, noted increasing throbbing pain in her leg muscles. She was nauseated and weak, and her urine turned dark brown. She had developed a rare, but now more commonly seen condition, called rhabdomyolysis.
She required kidney dialysis and a two-week hospitalization to recover. What happened was that her spin class led to some of her leg muscle tissues to actually die, and leak their muscle proteins into her bloodstream. The proteins (mostly myoglobin) caused her kidneys to malfunction, requiring dialysis.
The medical journal article noted at least 47 people developing rhabdomyolysis after a spin class. For 42 of them, it was their first class. These people were physically fit, but the demands of the class were too much, leading to the breakdown of their muscles. Most were athletes who exceeded their limits, in some cases because they didn’t want to appear weak in front of the others.
What causes rhabdomyolysis
Rhabdomyolysis can occur after an accident with muscle trauma, rarely as a reaction to medication, or in people who were pushed too hard in physical activities, such as soldiers or marathon runners. While it can occur after any extreme physical activity, most recent cases have involved spin classes. Again these people were in good physical condition, but were not used to such extreme workouts.
You would feel especially tired and weak after your workout, and in the next days you would get even weaker, the affected muscles could swell, you might have nausea and vomiting, a fever, and brown or reddish urine.
If you suspect you are having this condition you need to go to a doctor or hospital without delay. Treatment requires aggressive hydration to clear the muscle proteins from your system, and in more severe cases, dialysis. If diagnosed and treated early, most people recover without long-term complications, but more severe cases, or if diagnosed late, can result in chronic kidney failure.
Keep reasonable limits in your exercises, particularly in classes you take with trainer or other students, pushing you too hard. Be especially careful if it’s your first class or a new activity for you. Know that it’s ok to leave a class early; don’t give your power to a trainer or the other students.
Before you try an extreme exercise class, for example spinning, do some mild spinning yourself on a stationary bike and slowly build up. To keep your system and kidneys working well, always have a water bottle with your during a class and keep hydrated before, during, and after the class. Be especially careful when exercising in hot conditions.
While this is still a rare condition, it is becoming more common as people are challenging themselves in more intense class workout situations. Vigorous exercise always causes some muscle damage—that is how muscles grow. But too much can be dangerous. Know and respect your limits.
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