How can physical therapy help with chronic fatigue syndrome?

Physical therapy can be a valuable tool in managing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a complex condition characterized by persistent fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive difficulties, and sleep disturbances. There is no cure for CFS, physical therapists can help individuals with CFS improve their quality of life by addressing the physical and functional limitations associated with the condition.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by rest. This fatigue is typically accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Problems with thinking or concentrating
  • Mood swings or depression

CFS can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in women between the ages of 20 and 40. It is estimated that 1-2 million people in the United States have CFS.


The cause of CFS is unknown, but it is believed to be triggered by a combination of factors, including:

  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Stress
  • Genetic predisposition

There is no cure for CFS, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms. These treatments may include:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as getting enough rest and exercise
  • Medications to relieve pain and fatigue
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help manage stress and improve coping skills


The hallmark symptom of CFS is persistent fatigue lasting six months or longer. This fatigue is more intense than expected for a person’s usual daily function.

  • Postexertional Malaise (PEM): After minor physical or mental effort, individuals with CFS experience worsening fatigue symptoms. Everyday tasks or light physical activity can leave them feeling extremely tired.
  • Other Symptoms: People with CFS may also experience general body pains, headaches, trouble thinking (often referred to as “brain fog”), and sleep disturbances.

How Can Physical Therapy Help with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a complex condition characterized by extreme fatigue lasting for more than six months. Individuals with CFS experience fatigue that is not relieved by rest and significantly impacts their daily functioning. While the exact cause of CFS remains unclear, it affects less than 1% of the population in the United States, with women being more commonly affected than men.

Physical therapy helps with running injuries

Managing CFS with Physical Therapy

Physical therapists play a crucial role in managing CFS symptoms and improving overall quality of life. Here’s how physical therapy can help CFS:

Energy Conservation Strategies

  • Physical therapists educate individuals with CFS on balancing daily activities with rest.
  • They help create a personalized plan to save energy during routine tasks.
  • Learning to pace oneself and avoid overexertion is essential to prevent energy crashes.

Individualized Exercise Programs

  • While exercise is important for overall health, it can be challenging for those with CFS.
  • Physical therapists work closely with patients to establish personalized limits for physical and mental activity.
  • Gradual, low-intensity exercises are prescribed to improve short-term endurance and strength.
  • Staying within an “energy envelope” helps prevent post-exertional malaise (PEM).

Education and Sleep Health Promotion

  • Physical therapists provide guidance on managing symptoms and improving sleep quality.
  • Strategies for better sleep hygiene are essential for individuals with CFS.

Nutrition Recommendations

  • A diet rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (such as the Mediterranean Diet) may be helpful.
  • Eating smaller, frequent meals throughout the day can help maintain energy levels.
  • Avoiding sugar, sweeteners, alcohol, and caffeine is advisable.

Memory Aids and Cognitive Strategies

  • Physical therapists recommend using day planners or smartphone apps to manage schedules.
  • Setting reminders and using lists can help with memory challenges.
  • Engaging in puzzles, word games, and card games can keep the mind active.

Workplace Accommodations

  • About half of individuals with CFS continue to work.
  • Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and seeking reasonable accommodations can support employment.

Remember that CFS symptoms may fluctuate, and full recovery is uncommon in adults. However, physical therapy can significantly improve function and quality of life for those living with CFS.

If you or someone you know is dealing with CFS, consider consulting a physical therapist to develop a personalized management plan.


Physical therapy is like having a special coach who helps runners get better after they get hurt. They do this by using different techniques to reduce pain and help muscles get stronger and more flexible. They also teach runners how to run in a way that won’t hurt them again. This way, runners can get back to running sooner and safer.

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I am a highly skilled and experienced content writer with a Doctorate in Therapy degree. With a deep understanding of the human body and a passion for health and wellness. I combines my clinical expertise and writing skills to create valuable and engaging content.

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