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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and How Physical Therapy Can Help

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is defined loosely as extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition. It’s more than just being tired; individuals suffering from CFS/ME are disabled by the condition and generally are unable to perform their normal activities. Cases can last for years and it can possibly lead to lasting disability. 

Symptoms of CFS/ME include:

  • Inability to perform common tasks due to fatigue

  • A “crash” after light activity like grocery shopping, or even after mental activity

  • Problems with sleep

  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating without experiencing fatigue

  • Memory issues

  • Pain, including joint pain, muscle pain, and even irritable bowels

Bigger events can potentially leave a person bedridden for days, unable to perform basic tasks around the home. These symptoms are especially significant if a person normally would not have experienced this kind of fatigue, and if the symptoms worsen when standing or sitting upright (known as “orthostatic intolerance”).

physical therapist working with client doing weighted squats outside

What Treatments are There? Can Physical Therapy Help?

Treatments for CFS/ME generally center around managing the symptoms and trying to increase quality of life. There currently isn’t any cure for the disease. Your healthcare providers can help you manage symptoms like post-exertional malaise (PEM), sleep problems, and pain. 

Physical therapy can help with light exercise to try to restore and enhance short-term endurance and strength, to decrease the amount of recovery time CFS/ME sufferers need after the activities of daily life. Your physical therapist can help you gradually reintroduce activities into your life in order to achieve greater independence. They'll help you with energy conservation so you can make the most of what energy you do have, and they may also employ massage therapy/manual treatment in order to help keep your muscles and joints loose.

Although there is no cure for CFS/ME, many people do experience improvement over time. It’s rare for people to recover fully, but with proactive treatment a sense of normalcy can be restored to a person’s life.


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