Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a medical condition affecting about 1% of the US population. If left untreated, it almost always leads to disability. With proper treatment, including Physical Therapy, the condition is quite manageable and can lead to an improved quality of life.
What Exactly Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a medical condition classified by generalized fatigue that persists for 6 months or longer. It is more intense than one would suspect based on the effort an individual routinely exerts. While there is no clearcut, definitive agreement by the medical community as to the underlying cause(s) of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it is generally thought that impairments of the aerobic energy, GI (gastrointestinal) systems, and immune systems may be responsible for the functional impairment felt by people with this medical condition.
What Does Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Feel Like?
Individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can feel general aches and pains, headaches, trouble with concentration and thinking (i.e. brain fog), and disruptions in sleep patterns. However, the best know symptom appears to be postexertional malaise, which causes an individual to feel extremely tired with normal, daily activities or mild overexertions. It has often been described as feeling like one has had the flu for a long, long time. These symptoms can certainly fluctuate over time. Full recovery is often common in children, but fairly uncommon in adults. Since the goal is to improve daily functioning in individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, current treatment relates to addressing symptoms and compensating for functional deficits.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Associated With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
- Fatigue–The obvious primary symptom is fatigue lasting for 6 months or longer
- Generalized Pain–There is a significant amount of overlap between diagnoses of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, and some studies suggest that 50% to 80% of individuals diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome also qualify to have a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia.
- Muscle Weakness–A decrease in physical activity can lead to general muscle weakness.
- Frequent Headaches–Many individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome will complain of frequent or recurring headaches. This can often lead to avoidance of physical activity.
- Disturbed Sleep–Despite the feeling of general fatigue, people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome actually often have difficulty sleeping.
- Flu-like Symptoms–Individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome will often report sore throats, muscle aches, and generalized fatigue.
- Difficulty With Concentration And Thinking–People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome often report difficulty concentrating or “staying on task.”
How Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosed?
No other health problem may be responsible for the fatigue, meaning Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion. Diagnosis is also symptom-based, meaning your Physical Therapist or physician will base the diagnosis on your reported symptoms. Unfortunately, there are no diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but often times medical tests will be conducted to eliminate other medical conditions.
Your Physical Therapist might be the first person to diagnose an onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome based upon the effects on your physical function. Some questions your Physical Therapist may pose to you might include:
- How long have you felt tired or fatigued?
- When do you feel tired or fatigued?
- Are you experiencing any widespread pain or discomfort?
- Have you noticed any difficulty with sleeping?
- Have you experienced any significant changes in your ability to perform physical tasks?
- Have you noticed any recent changes in your ability to think clearly?
Your Physical Therapist may suggest that you complete a questionnaire to better understand your physical state, as well as to screen for the presence of other conditions. In addition, cardiopulmonary exercise testing, including 2 tests arranged 24 hours apart, may be used to characterize the severity of your functional impairment.
How Can Physical Therapy Help If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Physical Therapy is extremely beneficial to help ease your discomfort and improve your ability to perform your normal daily activities. Treatment should in all likelihood focus on improving short-term endurance and strength, since pain, fatigue, and weakness are all associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Your Physical Therapist may also want to look into other possible conditions, such as depression, and may recommend other specialists for co-management of your symptoms. Physical Therapy should focus on:
- Manual Therapy–Hands-on (Manual) therapy should focus on manipulating and mobilizing soft tissue, bones, and skin to help alleviate pain and improve overall movement.
- Mobility And Strengthening Exercises–These are critical for helping you to improve your short-term endurance and strength which will help to decrease your overall level of discomfort. Specific movement patterns should be identified to help decrease your specific symptoms.
- Education–Your Physical Therapist should instruct you in specific strategies to help conserve energy while performing your daily activities.
Can Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to date to predict or prevent the onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, especially since the actual mechanisms behind Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are not completely understood. However, detecting the signs and symptoms early on may help tremendously in its management. Once the diagnosis is made, your Physical Therapist should work closely with you to develop strategies to better understand and help you to manage your symptoms.
As with many conditions, education is extremely critical. If you understand maintenance strategies, such as finding a balance between periods of activity and rest, you will have a much better chance of living a functional life. As mentioned previously, short-duration exercises may be utilized without making your symptoms worse. Symptoms are also well-controlled with a pacing and self-management program. In addition, cognitive behavior therapy as well as psychotherapy can be extremely beneficial in addressing possible associated disorders, mainly anxiety and depression.
If you or someone you know is suffering from the signs and symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, don’t wait to take action. Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see you Physical Therapy can help. Don’t wait–schedule now!