How much is too much when it comes to exercise? A member of the Action News team suffered a potentially life-threatening illness when she was pushed too far at the gym. Experts say anyone who works out, and especially personal trainers, need to know about this dangerous condition.
Jeannette Reyes was filling in, anchoring the morning show here on Channel 6. It was summertime and a few days after she did an intense workout session with a new personal trainer. She says her arms hurt, she couldn't extend them and they had started to swell. "That morning before I anchored the morning show about 3:30 in the morning the swelling stopped at my elbow. By the end of the show, about 2.5 hours later, it worked its way down, almost halfway down my forearm. So the swelling was working its way down," Jeannette said. Jeannette showed me her arms later that morning, asking if this was normal after a workout. It's not. I had suspected it could be a rare condition called exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis. I consulted with physical therapist and athletic trainer Justin Shaginaw at Penn Therapy and Fitness. We told her to go to the hospital right away. Thankfully she did because lab tests confirmed a severe case of the condition. Rhabdomyolysis or Rhabdo for short is when muscle fibers break down, they leak fluid into the bloodstream. It can shut down someone's kidneys, cause liver and heart problems.
Jeannette was in the hospital for five days. "I had 9 IV bags, just fluids, and fluids," she said. "The swelling was so much I couldn't bend my arm, not because of the pain, but because it was so huge." Joe Cannon is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has his masters in exercise science and he gives lectures about Rhabdo, teaching trainers. "It's my experience most personal trainers in America, maybe the world, does not know what Rhabdo is," he said.
Cannon has also written a book called "Rhabdo: The Scary Side Effect of Exercise You Need to Know About" to help get the message out, because pushing someone too hard or doing too much, too soon can bring it on. "As I like to tell people, exercise is the most powerful drug in the world. You have to dose it out in the right dosage and if you dose too much you can have some negative side effects with rhabdomyolysis being one of those negative side effects," he said. Shaginaw says some people may be at a greater risk: If you have sickle cell trait or disease, take anti-fungal medication or even if you're not feeling well. However, it can happen to anyone. He says if you're new to working out like Jeannette, ask for your trainer's credentials. "And maybe interview them to make sure they are going to progress you gradually rather than kill you in day one with the exercises," he said. Jeannette tells others, always listen to your body.
"My body told me 20 minutes in something was terribly wrong. Each day it got progressively worse," she said. Jeannette says she did speak up during the workout, saying it was too much and that she couldn't fully extend her arms. She says she was told that was normal and to keep going. "I think sometimes the idea is to push your client to their breaking point, but their breaking point could also mean putting their health in danger. I think there needs to be a lot more training with personal trainers as to what is too much," she said. Fortunately, Jeannette has recovered. She's sharing her story in the hopes it'll prevent this from happening to someone else.