When 33-year-old Lauren Peterson attended her first spin class, she expected it to be physically challenging; she didn't expect to leave the class with a potentially fatal health condition.
After 15 minutes of super-intense cycling, the Bronx, New York-based schoolteacher says she felt nauseous and almost passed out. And while that might sound like most people's introductions to spinning, it definitely wasn't: Two days later, she was still suffering from a handful of scary symptoms, including dark urine and swelling and searing pain in her thigh muscles.
"I was crying putting on my socks, my thighs hurt so bad," Peterson told TODAY. "I was scared. I knew something was really wrong with me."
A couple of days after that, Peterson went to the emergency room at Westchester Medical Center. That's where she found out she had a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis, which occurs when muscle tissue breaks down and releases a protein called myoglobin into the blood. When myoglobin leaks into the bloodstream, it can cause kidney failure — which is why doctors told Peterson she was lucky she didn't suffer any damage to her kidneys.
The Unexpected Spin Class Connection
It turned out that Peterson's doctor, Maureen Brogan, MD, had seen two more cases of rhabdomyolysis at Westchester Medical Center before Peterson's ER visit. She wrote about it in a November 2016 report and noted several key similarities: In all three cases, rhabdomyolysis was brought on by a high-intensity spin class, all three patients were novice spinners, and the vigorous workout took a toll on some of the largest muscles in their bodies: those in their thighs and butts. When these muscles didn't get enough oxygen, they broke and burst — which ultimately led to the release of myoglobin into the blood and some not-so-fun symptoms.
But Dr. Brogan doesn't want you to be scared away from your local spin class — or any other high-intensity exercise, for that matter. There's no "rhabdomyolysis epidemic" happening, after all, and working out is still good for you!
"Spinning is great exercise," Brogan told TODAY. "But people should be aware they need to take it slow in the beginning. There should be some guidelines."
How to Prevent Rhabdomyolysis
To avoid developing this rare condition yourself, be sure to take it slow when you're trying a new high-impact exercise for the first time. You're less likely to develop rhabdomyolysis if you're fit, but it's still important to practice caution, keep your body hydrated, and talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Extreme muscle soreness
- Fatigue, nausea, and vomiting
- Thigh pain and weakness
- Dark urine and decreased urine output
- Muscle swelling and tenderness