by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

Rhabdomyolysis: The Scary Condition that Can Develop After Spin Class

Had a killer workout? Keep reading to learn more about this exercise-induced condition that could be fatal.

If you’ve ever taken a spin class, you know it’s no joke. Riding on a stationary bike for 45 minutes doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s insanely hard in reality. Heard stories of people ending up in the hospital after a spin class? All the more reason to be wary of the high-intensity workout

Rhabdomyolysis is a rare condition where it leads muscle tissue to break down and release a harmful protein, myoglobin, into the bloodstream. The resulting toxicity in the body as the muscles break down may lead to kidney failure and even death.

We check in with Dr Rachel Chan of WhiteCoat to find out more about this exercise-induced condition.

What is rhabdomyolysis?

“Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially life-threatening condition resulting from the breakdown of muscle with leakage of muscle contents, that is myoglobin, into the blood circulation,” says Dr Rachel. “In severe cases, large quantities of myoglobin in the circulation can damage the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure and death.”

The symptoms to watch out for include muscle swelling, pain, tenderness and/or weakness, as well as dark reddish-brown urine. “In some cases, the patient might experience reduced or no urination, nausea or confusion,” she explains. 

How can a simple spin class result in rhabdomyolysis?

Given the intense atmosphere of spin classes, newbies may find themselves pushing themselves a little too hard. Of course, if you’re pacing yourself and not pushing yourself past your body’s limits, attending your first spin class shouldn’t put your health at risk. However, for an unlucky few, it might lead to overexertion and possibly rhabdomyolysis. 

“It can be due to the fact that spinning requires intense and sustained activity concentrated to the lower part of the body, which may cause increased muscle breakdown,” says Dr Rachel. “This happens as there is a lack of oxygen reaching the muscle cells to keep up with the demand being placed on them.”

Who is at risk?

While rhabdomyolysis is rare, it can happen to anyone. You are more susceptible if you have muscle-related trauma, overexertion, or have been exposed to high heat resulting in heatstroke or burns. And if you think that rhabdomyolysis occurs only in people who are out of shape, that’s not always the case: The risk of muscle injury and rhabdomyolysis is higher in people who take part in strenuous workouts without sufficient stretching.

For some individuals, rhabdomyolysis can be hereditary, says Dr Rachel, usually caused by genetic and metabolic disorders. Certain medications, toxins, infections and muscle inflammation can also cause rhabdomyolysis. 

What are the ways to treat rhabdomyolysis?

According to Dr Rachel, it all comes down to rest, hydration, and treatment of any of the possible complications. As rhabdomyolysis may cause damage to the kidneys, it is essential to get yourself admitted to a hospital once you recognise the signs and symptoms.

“Early admission to a hospital for close monitoring and intravenous hydration is required to preserve kidney function. In more severe cases of rhabdomyolysis leading to kidney failure and/or damage, dialysis will be warranted,” she says. 

Are there ways to prevent it?

So how do you prevent this from happening in the first place? According to Dr Rachel, slow and steady wins the race. “It is important to stretch your body to exercise progressively before engaging in high-intensity exercise,” explains Dr Rachel. Drinking enough water before and after exercise is also critical; it ensures that your kidneys can efficiently rid your body of possible toxin build-up that occurs in your body due to exertion.

The final takeaway

Don’t be afraid to sign up for your first spin class or to do any other form of high-intensity workout! If you’re concerned, consider speaking with a doctor first and of course, easing your way into it is the way to go. 

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