If you’re always tired, you might be wondering if you have chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a long term condition with a range of symptoms – the most common being extreme tiredness. Also medically known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), CFS can be suffered by anyone from children to the elderly and it affects approximately 250,000 people in the UK. According to the NHS, it tends to be more common in women and typically develops between the mid-20s and mid-40s. (See http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Chronic-fatigue-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx)
The main symptom of CFS is feeling extremely tired. Some people report they also feel generally unwell. Other common symptoms include:
• Insomnia or other sleeping problems
• Joint or muscle pain
• Headaches and mgraines
• Sore throat despite glands not being swollen
• Flu-like symptoms
• Cognitive problems such as difficulty in thinking, remembering and concentrating
• Feeling dizzy or nauseous
• Heart palpitations
People who have CFS usually find that over exercising worsens their symptoms. The severity can vary from day to day, or in some cases, within the day. There isn’t a specific test to diagnose CFS, so practitioners usually diagnose based on the symptoms and ruling out other conditions. They may take blood and urine tests. The symptoms of CFS are quite similar to a variety of other illnesses, for example the common cold or flu. These tend to get better on their own, so if yours do not improve, you should consider getting a diagnosis to see if it is actually CFS.
Most people suffering from CFS get better over time and the symptoms fade on their own. However, some people don’t make a full recovery. Children and young people are more likely to see a full recovery. CFS can be treated in a variety of ways and there may be times where the symptoms get better or worse. The treatments will depend on the severity of your condition. They include:
• Cognitive behavioural therapy – a talking treatment that can change the way you think and behave
• Graded exercise therapy – a structured exercise program
• Medications to control the pain, nausea and sleeping problems
In addition to these traditional treatment plans, massage therapy is also said to be effective in helping the persistent tiredness. Studies have shown that gentle massages help to lower anxiety and improve sleep in people who suffer from CFS. A 2007 study investigated effective therapies for chronic fatigue syndrome. 85 cases of CFS were treated with a combination of massage techniques (using acupressure points) and the therapeutic effects were observed. The researchers found that after three treatment sessions, 78 of the cases were effective, which is over 90 per cent of the sample. This shows a combination of massage and acupressure is highly effective in improving the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Why does it work?
The causes of chronic fatigue syndrome are unknown, but preliminary research suggests virus or immune system reactions may be responsible, for example a herpes infection. Medical practitioners have said the main risk factors range from psychological conditions such as extreme stress and anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders, neuroticism and perfectionism to physical and lifestyle reasons such as a poor diet or persistent illnesses. Depression is another factor that can worsen CFS and make it last longer.
Massage is known for its ability to reduce or eliminate stress. In 2001, researchers from the Korean Society of Nursing Science studied the effects that a back massage with lavender oil had on the stress levels of ICU nurses. 40 nurses were selected and divided into two groups – a control and an experimental. Lavender oil mixed with jojoba oil was used to massage the neck, shoulders and back. The experimental group received a 20 minute massage three times a week for two weeks from a professional massage therapist. Stress response was measured with a subjective stress score and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the saliva were measured before and after. It was found that although there was no significant change in cortisol levels, there was a significant reduction in perceived stress. The researchers concluded that back massage with lavender oil effectively interfered to reduce stress in ICU nurses.
Massage is effective in reducing stress in all ages. A study conducted in 2002 by researchers at Soonchunhyang University investigated whether massage reduced stress levels in premature babies. 58 infants were divided into two groups and one group received a 15 minute massage twice a day for 10 days. Urine samples containing cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine (hormones responsible for stress) were collected on day one and 10. Hormone levels were significantly lower in the massaged group after the 10 day period, suggesting that massage can be used to reduce stress levels in preterm infants.
As countless studies suggest, massage has the ability to reduce stress and anxiety. This is why it has a positive effect in lessening the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. When a person is less stressed, any obsessive disorders are suppressed and they find it easier to fall asleep.
However as with any condition that has unknown causes, there is no singular treatment. As well as massage therapy, a variety of lifestyle changes may be needed. For example:
• Eating a healthy diet – some foods, particularly those that are high in sugar, carbohydrate and fat tend to make people feel sluggish. Avoid refined foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and saturated fats. Cutting down on these foods will help reverse the symptoms of CFS. Replace these with fresh vegetables, legumes, whole grains, protein and essential fatty acids.
• Save your energy. Pace yourself and slow down so you don’t overdo it one day and find yourself paying for it the following day. Aim to maintain a moderate but steady amount of activity that involves exercise. Herbs and homeopathic remedies can reduce the symptoms of CFS and help to conserve and improve energy.
• Engage in regular exercise. Studies have shown that people with CFS who exercise experience fewer symptoms than those who do not.
• Reduce stress as it can make CFS symptoms worse. Counselling, support groups, meditation, breathing techniques, yoga and massage are popular stress management tactics that can help you relax. Qigong is a gentle exercise that helps to reduce stress, fatigue symptoms and poor mental functions.