Although any person, including healthy people, can become tired occasionally, chronic fatigue can affect your ability to do productive activities and live a quality life. Also commonly known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder that makes you feel fatigued for about six months or more.
When left untreated, CFS symptoms can make it challenging to carry out daily tasks and think clearly. Fortunately, this disorder is manageable with proper remedies, including physical therapy. Although there is no approved cure for CFS, a physical therapist can help ease or reduce the discomfort and symptoms caused by this disorder, restoring and improving your quality of life.
Read on for more information about this condition's symptoms, causes, and available remedies.
What is CFS?
CFS is a long-term condition characterized by extreme tiredness or fatigue that does not disappear or reduce, even with adequate rest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 836,000 to 2.5 million individuals have CFS.
Many people in the past did not think or believe that CFS was an actual illness. However, medical experts have begun to take the condition seriously, and research is ongoing to figure out the root cause of the problem and how to manage or treat it.
In the meantime, medical treatment and lifestyle changes can help lessen the symptoms caused by this condition.
Causes of CFS
The cause of CFS is yet unknown, but researchers speculate that the condition is possibly due to issues with the following:
- The immune, hormonal, and neurological systems.
- Gastrointestinal system.
- The body's energy production system.
- Heart rate regulation and blood pressure.
For other people, CFS could also be due to infection, anesthetic immunization, head trauma, toxic pressure, genetics, or physical trauma like a car accident.
Factors That Can Put You at Risk of CFS
Since the cause of CFS is unknown, it is challenging to know what could put you at risk of this condition. However, particular factors could increase your risk of developing CFS, including:
- Age – People of any age can develop CFS, but it is more common among people aged between 40 and 50 years.
- Gender – Women are diagnosed with CFS up to four times more often than men, but it could be because women are more likely to discuss their symptoms with a healthcare provider.
- Other medical issues – People with a history of complex medical issues like fibromyalgia are more likely to develop this condition.
How it Feels to Have CFS
The most common symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is PEM (post exertional malaise). PEM is the deterioration of tiredness symptoms after any mental or physical work. An individual with CFS could feel extraordinarily tired after a very light task or physical activity. A person with CFS could also experience the following:
- Sleep problems.
- Trouble thinking.
- General body pains.
Some people with CFS describe it as having chronic or long-lasting flu, but these symptoms could reduce over time. If you are not an adult, full recovery could be impossible if you have CFS. However, full recovery is common among children with this condition.
Your therapist can recommend exercises to help you ease or manage symptoms associated with CFS and gradually regain control of your daily life and activities.
Core Symptoms of CFS
Symptoms of this condition can vary from one person to another, and the severity of these symptoms could fluctuate within a day or from day to day. Generally speaking, below are some of the core symptoms of CFS that many people will experience:
Extreme Fatigue or Tiredness
Mental and physical fatigue is undoubtedly one of the main symptoms of this condition among most people and could last for up to six (6) months or more. Since this fatigue does not go away even with adequate rest, performing your daily activities could be challenging.
Most individuals with CFS describe their tiredness or fatigue as devastating and different from what they have ever experienced in the past. Usually, exercising will worsen the symptoms of this condition. Sometimes, the effect of exercising is not immediate, and you will feel fatigued a few hours later or the next day.
Several individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome complain about persistent and recurring headaches, which make them avoid physical activities. Fortunately, having adequate exercise could benefit your mental, social, and physical health. Physical exercise will also help improve and prevent many chronic disorders, including CFS.
Not all muscle weakness issues are related to physical activity, tension, or stress. Some medical reasons, like CFS, could also cause muscle weakness. Less physical activity could also contribute to the muscle weakness you are feeling.
Another core and common symptom among people with CFS is general pain, especially in their muscles and joints. If you are experiencing pain in your body joints or muscles even without physical activity or injury, it could be a sign that you have CFS.
Many individuals with CFS have issues with their sleep. If you have CFS, you could find that:
- You feel sleepy or tired during the day.
- You often wake up during your sleep.
- You often feel unrefreshed after your sleep.
- You often feel tired, stiff, or have flu-like signs and symptoms once you wake up.
Problems With Concentration, Memory, and Thinking
If you have CFS, you could find it challenging to do the following:
- Remember specific names, words, or numbers.
- Remember events that occurred recently.
- Concentrate or focus on one or more activities more than once.
- Think clearly and make decisions.
People often refer to the above symptoms of CFS as "brain fog."
Dizziness When Walking or Standing Up
If you have CFS, you could experience the following once you move from lying on your back to standing, sitting, or walking:
- Vision changes, like seeing spots or blurred vision.
Aside from the above-explained symptoms, other potential symptoms you could experience due to CFS include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Irregular heartbeats.
- Sore throat.
- Mood changes and irritability.
- Panic attacks and anxiety.
- Eye pain.
- Allergies to food.
- Burning or tingling sensations in your hands.
- Tenderness in your lymph nodes.
Severity Levels of CFS Symptoms
CFS affects people differently, with some experiencing more severe symptoms than others. Generally, there are four (4) levels of CFS symptoms, which can help your doctor or specialist know the severity of the disability the condition has caused in your life. These severity levels of CFS symptoms include:
- Mild – A person with mild CFS symptoms can perform his/her every activity, including work, studies, or housework.
- Moderate – If your CFS symptoms are moderate, you could find it challenging to move around or do your daily activities, like schooling.
- Severe – Once your CFS symptoms become severe, you could be housebound, bedbound, or even need a wheelchair to move from one place to another. However, you could manage to do basic tasks like brushing and flossing your teeth.
- Very severe – If your CFS symptoms are very severe, chances are you will have to spend your time in bed resting, and you will be entirely dependent on caretakers to live a comfortable life.
Generally speaking, the level of CFS symptoms could vary over time. A person with CFS could be at one level of severity, and then his/her condition will either deteriorate or improve over time. For some people, their condition could worsen significantly with no particular cause.
Diagnostic Criteria for CFS
CFS symptoms could vary and resemble those of other diseases, making it challenging to diagnose. When you seek medical assistance for CFS, your doctor or medical practitioner will begin the diagnostic process by:
- Asking you questions relating to your symptoms.
- Performing a thorough physical examination.
- Recommending medical tests to identify or rule out other possible causes of the problem.
To receive a diagnosis for CFS, you must have had the core symptoms of this condition explained above for at least six months. On top of that, your healthcare provider must be unable to identify any other explanation or cause of the symptoms. Other health conditions with symptoms that resemble those caused by CFS include:
- Lyme disease.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Major depressive disorder.
- Sleep disorders.
The side effects of certain drugs, like antihistamines, could also mimic or resemble the symptoms of CFS. Because of the resemblances between CFS symptoms and several other conditions, you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms for a correct diagnosis and treatment.
How Your Physical Therapist Could Help if You Have CFS
There is no approved treatment for CFS, but your physical therapist could use a variety of ways to help alleviate the symptoms caused by this condition. Your therapist will work hand in hand with you to formulate an ideal treatment program for your unique condition.
The primary goal of the treatment is to help alleviate the discomfort caused by this condition's symptoms and boost your physical ability to carry out your daily tasks. Since individuals with CFS often experience pain, weakness, and fatigue, the treatment your physical therapist will recommend will focus on boosting your short-term strength and endurance.
Your therapist will also determine whether you have other symptoms like depression or anxiety, which could require a specialist to address the issue. In a nutshell, below are the physical therapy remedies to expect once you schedule an appointment with a physical therapist:
With the help of your therapist, you can create a strategy to help you use less energy during routine household chores or activities. The plan or program will also teach you techniques that can help promote healthy sleep.
Strengthening and Movement Techniques
Exercise and frequent movements can help boost your short-term strength and endurance. Frequent movements could also help alleviate the bothersome pain you are experiencing due to the CFS. Your therapist will identify and guide you through specific movements and exercises that will help alleviate your unique symptoms. Here are a few examples of exercises your physical therapist could recommend:
- Gentle stretching.
- Light weight training.
As the name suggests, during manual therapy, the therapist will use his/her hands to help alleviate the symptoms you are experiencing. Your therapist will do this to mobilize your bones, skin, and the soft tissues in your body.
Other Remedies for CFS
Physical therapy is a helpful way to alleviate symptoms of CFS, but sometimes, it does not fix all your symptoms. Aside from physical therapy, other remedies that can help reduce the symptoms of CFS include:
Home-based remedies and lifestyle changes could help alleviate the symptoms of CFS. For instance, you could sleep better when you limit your caffeine intake. Limiting alcohol and nicotine intake could also help solve the sleep disorder issue caused by the CFS.
Another way to solve your sleep problems caused by the CFS is by creating a sleep routine that helps you go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and morning, respectively.
Generally speaking, no medication can fix all your symptoms caused by the CFS. Also, your symptoms could change over time, meaning your medications must change. Since, in some cases, CFS could be a symptom of depression or cause depression, your doctor would recommend a low dose of antidepressants.
If lifestyle changes do not help improve your sleep, your doctor could recommend a sleep aid. Painkillers like ibuprofen could also help reduce joint pains and aches caused by the CFS. Since there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for CFS, you should consult your doctor before taking any medication.
The medications your doctor will recommend should help fix or reduce your unique symptoms caused by the CFS.
Massage and acupuncture could help reduce the symptoms caused by CFS. Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that uses your body's natural healing mechanisms to promote emotional and physical well-being. The procedure involves inserting hair-thin needles into strategic points in your skin to stimulate the release of endorphins, which act as your body's natural painkillers.
Frequently Asked Questions About CFS
Below are common and most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about chronic fatigue syndrome:
Is it Possible to Prevent CFS?
Since this condition's actual causes or culprits are yet to be known, it could be challenging to prevent it. However, detecting the symptoms of this condition at its onset could help manage it. Proper education is also a key remedy for managing the symptoms caused by CFS. The therapist you will consult will help you develop methods and remedies to lessen the symptoms of this condition.
Learning remedies to manage your symptoms caused by CFS could help boost your quality of life and function. Below are strategies your therapist could use to help lessen CFS symptoms:
- Teach you helpful ways that can assist you in balancing your rest periods and activities.
- Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and therapy to help address issues like depression.
What Factors Should I Consider When Looking for a Physical Therapist?
All therapists must have proper education and training to legally treat or manage CFS and other medication conditions. However, when looking for a reliable physical therapist for your unique problem, you should consider the following factors:
Whether the Therapist is Board-Certified
Apart from having adequate education and training to offer physical therapy services, you should ensure your prospective therapist is board-certified. A board-certified therapist has skills, advanced knowledge, and experience that could apply to your unique CFS condition.
Whether the Therapist Has Adequate Experience
While every expert was once an amateur, you could not risk settling for the services of a therapist with no experience treating patients with CFS or related conditions. During your initial consultation with your prospective physical therapist, remember to ask him/her whether he/she has treated a patient with CFS before.
If the therapist has no experience with patients with CFS, you should look for a different, experienced expert for the best services you deserve.
Whether the Therapist is Reputable
Your prospective therapist's reputation can say a lot about the quality of his/her services. Ensure the therapist you choose has a credible reputation among his/her past clients. One way to know whether your prospective therapist is reputable is by checking his/her past clients' comments on his/her website and social media profiles.
A certified client will not hesitate to leave a positive comment commending his/her quality of services. If his/her past clients' comments are negative, you should take that as a sign of incompetence and unreliability.
Whether the Therapist is Accessible and Available
If your prospective therapist has a tight work schedule with several clients waiting for his/her services, chances are he/she will not dedicate adequate time to your unique needs. You should also consider your prospective therapist's location before signing any agreement with him/her.
Ensure the therapist you choose has a clinic within your residence area or city to make it hassle-free to visit his/her clinic whenever you want during the treatment period.
Find a Physical Therapist Near Me
While CFS has no known cure, a physical therapist can help you lessen the symptoms of this condition and live the comfortable and productive life you deserve. We invite you to call our experienced physical therapists at Suarez Physical Therapy at 702-368-6778 if you or a loved one has CFS in Las Vegas.