Using exercise to manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)


CFS is defined as disabling fatigue that is not managed through bed rest. Severity of fatigue can be exacerbated through post-exertional malaise (physical, emotional and mental exertion) and is commonly accompanied by cognitive, musculoskeletal and sleep symptoms.

What causes Chronic Fatigue

A direct cause is unknown although research has shown that it can be triggered by infection, toxic exposure, anaesthetic, immunisation or trauma. In other cases it may develop slowly overtime.

How is Chronic Fatigue Diagnosed:

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention created a wonderful information tool to help determine common symptoms of CFS. This can guide individuals to then seek further advice from a medical professional and a possible diagnosis of CFS. There are no specific diagnostic tests to determine CFS although a doctor will use internationally agreed criteria (questioning and symptoms) and a number of clinical exams to determine if they align with CFS.

An individual must have one of the three following:
o Substantial reduction in functioning and profound fatigue for at least 6 months
o Post-exertional malaise
o Unrefreshing sleep
o Cognitive impairment OR
o Orthostatic intolerance

Common Symptoms:

– Malaise
– Forgetfulness
– Anxiety
– Joint and muscle pain
– Difficulty concentration
– Sleep disturbance

Common co-morbidities (other diseases that may arise or be present):

– Fibromyalgia
– Sleep disorders
– Irritable bowel syndrome
– Depression
– Anxiety

Treatment Options:

There is no cure for CFS although you can manage some symptoms and optimise quality of life through specific treatment options. There is no set presentation of CFS so each individual case will be treated differently. It is import to discuss treatment options with your doctor to determine what options may best help manage your symptoms. Some treatment options include: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), energy management, medication, diet or supplementation, sleep therapy, adaptive pacing therapy (APT) and any other lifestyle changes that help relieve symptoms.

Energy Management for CFS:

Energy management is extremely import for CFS individuals. Energy management refers to several treatment methods that can assist an individual in monitoring their activity and understand the best way to use their energy in day to day life. Some doctors may suggest that supervised and tailored exercise treatment might assist in managing symptoms of CFS and help build an individuals activity tolerance. It is important that you speak to an exercise specialist such as an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist for the most appropriate and safe exercise prescription.

How can Exercise Help CFS?

CFS is an energy limiting chronic illness (ELCI) therefore one way to treat it would be to increase total energy capacity.

What is the best type of exercise:

Graded exercise is the most appropriate method of exercising for CFS. Graded exercise refers to starting an exercise program with low load, intensity and frequency and gradually increase the volume as the individual progresses (approximately 10-20% every 1-2 weeks). This will allow the individual to exercise within their limits reducing risk of worsening symptoms post physical activity.
The mode of exercise may vary from session to session and is not limited to aerobic and resistance training. Your preferred exercise might be dancing, boxing, swimming, pilates, yoga etc.

Over time an individual may experience less fatigue during their day to day activities. They will start to build a bigger battery (more energy), have better quality of sleep, improved mood, more independence and a better quality of life.

Symptom Management Methods:

Just like a battery our bodies need energy to function. With chronic fatigue our battery is never at full charge and will drain energy faster than normal. Any individual who is experiencing fatigue can use the STOP, REST, PACE or SPOON methods.
STOP – Any activities when you recognise fatigue symptoms
REST – Take rests during your day
PACE – Breaking activities up to allow rest

Ready to make an appointment with ProHealth EP?

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Billy and Kim GrahamBilly and Kim Graham
00:28 25 Aug 22
This is definitely the place to go!! I use the heated pool!!! Beautiful!!! I have a great guide, companion, teacher, encourager in Robbie Brokenshire!! 😃He is compassionate and thorough!!I really enjoy myself, have a laugh, and we get the job done!!!So I absolutely recommend ProhHealth Exercise Physiology here in Redcliffe!!!
Terence GiddingsTerence Giddings
00:27 08 Jul 22
I have been a client with ProHealth for the last two-plus years. I have several chronic conditions, and working with Robbie Brokenshire and the ProHealth team has enabled me to lead a relatively everyday life.I would undoubtedly recommend ProHealth to anyone.
Jan HawesJan Hawes
07:00 24 Jun 22
I have been working with ProHealth for the past few months. All the team are friendly and professional. Strongly recommend them. It is never too late to start exercising.
Mike DickinsonMike Dickinson
23:45 19 Jun 22
Awesome trainers. Friendly staff. Great facilities. As a retired Veteran I 100% recommend to any Veterans or members of the public. They can tailor the exercise packages to meet a variety of needs. Thanks to Brooke (my PT) and the whole team.
Jocelyn GreerJocelyn Greer
00:39 19 Jun 22
Would 100% recommend Steph at ProHealth. My son who has special needs attends once a week for exercise physiology classes and Steph is fantastic. She is kind, friendly and great at her job. James feels very comfortable with her and he is making great progress.