A 23-year-old woman was temporarily paralyzed after doing a sit-up

Marcelle Mancuso was paralyzed from the neck down for a month following her injury.
Marcelle Mancuso was paralyzed from the neck down for a month following her injury. Instagram

The gym is a place most people go to get healthy, but for one Brazilian woman, it was where she ended up paralyzed. Marcelle Mancuso, a 23-year-old fitness enthusiast, had a freak accident at the gym that left her paralyzed from the neck down for a full month.

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A law grad from São José do Rio Preto, Mancuso was attempting to do an inverted sit-up, which requires lying upside down on a tilted apparatus, when the tragic event occurred.

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“It was just another normal day of training,” Mancuso said to The Independent. “I went to perform the abdominal inverted sit-up, and was upside down. I was attached to the equipment with a strip, which broke and the personal trainer could not hold me.”

She says as soon as the back of her head hit the floor, she lost all movement in her body. Mancuso ended up breaking the fifth vertebrae in her neck, knocked another one out of place and squashed a third, all of which compressed her spinal cord. Doctors diagnosed her with tetraplegia (or quadriplegia), a cervical injury that results in paralysis of all four limbs.

“The doctors did not know if I would walk again or if I would stay on a bed forever.”

She received emergency treatment right away, and doctors grafted bone to her damaged vertebrae and inserted a metal plate in her spine. Although they weren’t sure if she’d ever heal, she says she started to wiggle her fingers and toes after three days, and after a month, she was walking with the help of a walker.

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Mancuso’s road to recovery was a long and arduous one. She says it took her four months to improve her leg strength and it was five months before she was able to attempt walking without having fainting or dizzy spells.

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“After six months, I managed to walk and my legs did not sway anymore,” she said. “It sometimes feels like it was a nightmare I have woken from.”

(Trans: 365 days … more than walking again, I learned to pray. Thank you God! Thank you! May I never forget to thank, cherish for the good and give myself to whoever needs it. I am blessed and happy as never before! Live intensely and only carry with you what gives you peace, this is the purest form of happiness. Today, I am grateful and commemorate!)

While Mancuso’s injury is unique, Christian Seguin, a physiotherapist at Active Sport Physiotherapy Clinic in Cornwall, Ont., says that some injuries, like those to the lower back and shoulders, are common in gym settings.

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“When the biomechanics aren’t done well and you aren’t using your legs to lift, but rather bending forward, it becomes precarious and puts the lower back at risk,” he says. “While anything that requires repetitively lifting weights over your head in a standing or sitting position will create overuse of the rotator cuff [or shoulder joint].”

For this reason, he advises people to work out with the guidance of a kinesiologist or a certified trainer.

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He says Mancuso’s injury could have been avoided in any number of ways, including by working on an incline bench that secures your feet and is very close to the ground.

Overall, however, he doesn’t see this as an example of the hidden dangers of the gym.

“If you look at a conventional gym, it’s fairly safe,” he says. “They’re designed to minimize risk. Injuries usually happen when a person doesn’t use the equipment the proper way.”