When it Hurts to Move: Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle with Chronic Pain and Fatigue Syndromes

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month and the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition is offering resources and ideas to help people #MoveInMay with the 0 to 60 website and smartphone apps that provide informational resources on fitness, nutrition, and healthy living.  Maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle is important for one’s mental and physical health, but sometimes working out just isn’t an option. What options are available for individuals with chronic pain and fatigue syndromes in which even minimal physical activity can be draining and debilitating?

May 12th, 2017 marks the 25th Annual International Awareness Day for Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases (CIND).  CIND illnesses include myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia (FM), Gulf War syndrome (GWS), and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS).  In the case of ME, CFS, and FM everyday physical activity and light to moderate exercise can be extremely challenging.  However, there may still be options for those who want to focus on wellness. Research has suggested that low-impact physical activity/exercise such as swimming, walking, yoga, and Tai Chi may address chronic pain and stiffness in individuals with FM.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides some useful information on managing activities and exercise for individuals with CFS, which may be applied individuals with a wide range of chronic pain and fatigue issues. These activities include avoiding extremes, redefining exercise and daily activities into manageable pieces, and developing an activity program with health professionals that is low-impact, includes strength and range of motion exercises, increases gradually over time, and may be modified for individuals with severe chronic pain and fatigue issues.

For some people, even these low-impact options may be more challenging than beneficial. Individuals with severe chronic pain and fatigue, particularly those with ME, may experience negative effects from increased physical activity such as increased fatigue, insomnia, and higher levels of pain (https://paradigmchange.me/me/exercise).  These individuals may still be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and improve their pain and fatigue levels through general wellness options such as:

  • Deep breathing/meditation
  • Stress reduction
  • Increasing natural endorphins (i.e., aromatherapy, laughter, listening to music)
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Joining a physical or online support group
  • Not smoking
  • Tracking pain levels and activities (maintaining a pain journal)
  • Learning biofeedback
  • Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet


The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) has funded several research projects related to chronic conditions, healthy aging, and physical activity.  The NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Promoting Healthy Aging for Individuals with Long-Term Physical Disabilities has several documents on staying physically active and engaged in life despite chronic pain, the importance of resilience, and the role of happiness in people living with chronic pain.  The NIDILRR-funded center on ENhancing ACTivity and Participation for Persons with Arthritis (ENACT) has several documents on the benefits of tai chi, yoga, and water aerobics for alleviating symptoms; and exercise interventions for individuals with musculoskeletal pain.  A search of the REHABDATA database resulted in over 1,000 citations related to exercise, myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and musculoskeletal pain.

In addition to these NIDILRR-funded resources, the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD) funded through the CDC provides information and resources related to physical activity and all types of disability.  Patrons can search a variety of databases to locate programs, parks, and personal trainers in their area as well as read fact sheets on exercise and fitness.

This article is for information purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Consult with your healthcare professional regarding your condition and before beginning any wellness or exercise program. 

About cgraves34

Media Specialist for the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) through Administration for Community Living (ACL) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
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2 Responses to When it Hurts to Move: Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle with Chronic Pain and Fatigue Syndromes

  1. Pingback: Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center

  2. Pingback: Pain Awareness Month – A Look at Recent Research | Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center

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