“It really turned my world upside down,” Franco told TODAY of the ordeal. “It was very painful and exhausting.”
Rhabdomyolysis, also known as rhabdo, is a potentially life-threatening syndrome that occurs when damaged muscle begins to dissolve, releasing the contents of muscle fibers into the blood, potentially causing kidney damage.
Intense exercise can lead to rhabdo, with spin classes in particular posing “risks for newcomers”, Experts warned.
Franco’s 45-minute training session on September 15 was her first. The Marlborough, Massachusetts, resident loves to ride bikes, so when the weather got cooler and she joined the gym, her cousin recommended her indoor stationary bike workout.
“I was definitely pushing myself for sure, but I don’t think I was stressing myself out that I was, well, I really got over it,” Franco recalls.
“(But) as soon as I got off the bike my knee gave up and pretty much fell. I thought that was weird at first, but then I felt like maybe my muscles were tired, weak and a little sore.”
The next day, her legs were starting to swell and feel “tense,” but Franco thought it was a sign that she was building muscle.
The pain turned into pain and she noticed other frightening symptoms: she had trouble walking—to the point where she would pull on walls and counters to get help; She found it difficult to bend her legs and noticed that her urine was turning dark brown.
Franco decided to go to the hospital, where tests revealed how much creatine kinase (CK) in her blood — an enzyme that can detect muscle damage — was off the charts. The normal range is about 33-211 units per liter; Franco’s CK was over 259,000 one point.
They were immediately placed in intravenous fluids to flush out muscle proteins – the mainstay treatment for moderate to severe cases of rhabdo.
But Franco developed acute compartment syndrome in her right leg – in which pressure within the muscles rises to dangerous levels, reducing blood flow. It is usually the result of a serious injury and can lead to permanent muscle damage, According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Doctors had to perform a fasciotomy in her right leg, an emergency surgery to open the skin and fascia — the membrane that keeps tissue in place — in the affected area to relieve pressure.
Without the surgery, Franco’s doctor recalls, “You could have lost your leg… you could have lost your life too.”
About two months later, she still cannot walk without crutches and cannot lift or apply pressure to her right leg. Her left leg is better but still weak. Once she becomes active, she now often stays at home.
She hopes that by the end of December, she will be back to using one crutch or cane. Doctors told her it could take up to a year for her to fully recover.
Franco, who is crowdfunding to help pay her medical bills, wanted others to know the dangers of rhabdo—a condition she hadn’t heard of prior to her ordeal. She is afraid to exercise again, and plans to focus on walking for exercise when she is more mobile.
“I don’t want this to take away from my passion to be fit and active, but I do want to take it as a lesson and change a few things in the future,” she said. “I definitely want to be kinder to my body.”
Dark, red, tea or cola-colored urine, decreased urine output.
severe muscle soreness;
fatigue, nausea and vomiting;
Weakness of the affected muscles.
muscle swelling and tenderness;
Spinning is a great exercise, but it involves using some of the largest muscles in the body — the quadriceps and gluteus maximus — at an intense rate, says Dr. Maureen Brogan, a nephrologist who has investigated three cases ofSpin class-induced rhabdomyolysis, ” TODAY . said.
If the exercise is too intense, the muscles may not get enough oxygen and start to “swell, collapse and explode,” Brogan said. “People have to realize that they have to take things slow at first.”