UT grad student nearly dies from rare muscle condition after first spin class

Sarah Howard can finally climb stairs again without a lot of pain, walking up and down a set with ease during physical therapy at UT Medical Center

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – If you’re like many of us, you may try a new workout one day and the next your muscles are so sore you don’t want to get out of bed.

But what if you can’t move at all and you’re practically paralyzed? It’s a bizarre condition called rhabdomyolysis or rhabdo.

It almost took the life of a University of Tennessee graduate student 48 hours after she took her first spin class.

Sarah Howard can finally climb stairs again without a lot of pain, walking up and down a set with ease during physical therapy at UT Medical Center

It wasn’t so easy not that long ago.

“It was a lot of leaning on the rail and just one step at a time,” said Howard. “Very slow.”

Sarah Howard
Sarah Howard

As a member of the University of Tennessee Color Guard during her undergrad years, Howard is no stranger to strength training, but she landed in the hospital near death two months ago after her first spin class left her in incredible pain.

“I couldn’t move my legs at all. Pretty weird doing a spin class and within 48 hours pretty much paralyzed from the waist down,” she said.

Howard’s kidneys and liver were also shutting down. It turns out she was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a serious syndrome caused by muscle injury. It results in the death of muscle fibers and the release of their contents into the bloodstream.

“Mostly it presents with severe muscle aches and pain and fatigue almost to the inability to move,” said Dr. Amy Barger-Stevens.

Fortunately, Howard got to the hospital early enough to make a difference.

She’s learned an important lesson.

“Take it slow with new exercise. Just make sure you take it slow and listen to your body,” she said.

When asked if she was ever going to spin again, the response was affirmative.

Dr. Amy Barger-Stevens
Dr. Amy Barger-Stevens

“Absolutely. I’m just going to take it a lot slower this time.”

Treatment for rhabdo is IV fluids and other medications to flush out the kidneys. Three main symptoms to watch out for are dark colored urine, severe muscle aches and extreme fatigue.

If you experience those, see a doctor immediately.

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