JUL 29, 2017 6:52 AM PDT

Diagnosed: How Spin Class Can Cause Kidney Failure

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Next time you decide to continually push through the pain during your workouts, think twice. A man was recently hospitalized for a week for a life-threatening condition after going hardcore at spin class.

Image credit: Pixabay.com

When 33-year old Christopher Everett joined his first Soulcycle spin class, he decided to “go big, or go home.” The Los Angeles actor pushed through the pain that developed after 10 minutes of pedaling, thinking that it was part of the normal workout. He continued to pedal in pain for the rest of the class.

But the pain Everett was experiencing was not your typical post-workout soreness. Later on in the day, he reported excruciating pain in his thigh that prevented him from even sleeping. After some Googling, Everett stumbled on a similar case of a woman whose circumstances and symptoms mirrored his own. The diagnosis? Rhabdomyolysis.

Indeed, at the hospital ER, Everett received the same diagnosis, which prompted a week’s stay at the hospital.

Rhabdomyolysis translates to “breakdown of muscle.” This can be caused by various traumas to the muscles. And strenuous exercises, such as hardcore spinning, lifting, or CrossFit training, definitely qualify as causing trauma to the muscles.

The condition is life-threatening because when muscles break down, they release into the bloodstream a protein known as myoglobin. When myoglobin enters the kidneys, it gets broken down into substances that damage kidney cells.  This why one of the telltale signs of rhabdomyolysis is dark, red, or coca-colored urine. Other symptoms can include weakness, and muscle stiffness or tenderness.

"I've had patients come in who can't walk. They can't get out of bed. They call 911 because their muscles don't work," said Dr. Derek Fine, a physician who specializes in nephrology at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Mild to moderate cases of rhabdomyolysis can be treated by flushing the toxins with a flood of fluids. For severe cases, myoglobin poisoning can cause the kidneys to fail completely. In such cases, dialysis is the only option. And if the muscles have swollen to dangerous limits, doctors may also need to cut the tissue to relieve the pressure. In Everett’s case, he may consider himself lucky that he required only fluids to resolve the condition.

"I just wish SoulCycle would have said at the beginning of the class, 'if you work out too hard, this can happen to you,' " Everett said.

In a study of people who developed rhabdomyolysis from spin class, 42 out of 46 people were newbies to the extreme regimen. If there’s one lesson we should take away from Everett’s experience, it is that we really need to better listen to our bodies. Yes, we should challenge ourselves and our bodies, but this should be done gradually and within reason. But when the “no pain, no gain” mantra is taken to the extreme, we risk serious complications.

Additional sources: CNN

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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