Benefits of an E-Reader for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Why It's Better Than Physical Books

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Several aspects of reading can become more difficult ch when you have fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Some of these are physical and some of them have to do with cognitive dysfunction (brain fog or fibro fog). An e-reader -- such as a Kindle, Nook, or other tablet -- can help alleviate some of these problems.

Physical Difficulties of Reading

Reading a physical book can be hard on several parts of your body when you have chronic pain.

It can also use up the resources of those with fatigue and post-exertional malaise.

  • Hands can get tired and sore from holding the book;
  • Your neck and shoulders can get achy from being in one position too long;
  • You may end up with headaches from eye strain;
  • The constant demands on hand muscles and maintaining a position may be too much for someone with severe ME/CFS.

In my experience, an e-reader is better than a physical book that comes to these issues.

You don't have to hold it open — in fact, you can prop it up against something and only touch it to turn pages. Some cases are even designed to stand up in various positions. Also, an e-reader is typically lighter and thinner than a conventional book.

Because you don't have to hold it, it frees you up to read in different positions than usual, which means less strain on the neck and shoulders.

To ease eyestrain, you can change the font size and even the font itself.

Some models let you change the background and font colors as well. (Mine are set to beige and dark brown.) Backlit ones also let you change the brightness. (Keep in mind that a backlit monitor may cause problems for some people, especially if you have light sensitivity.)

To really help you be in the most comfortable position possible when you read, you can buy an adjustable stand that holds the e-reader.

Then, you can even lay flat on your back while still keeping your arms down and relaxed (except to turn the page, of course.)

Cognitive Difficulties of Reading

The foggy brain associated with these conditions discourages a lot of us from reading.

  • It can be hard to focus;
  • We can have trouble remembering what we've read;
  • The mental strain may trigger post-exertional malaise.

An e-reader likely won't improve any of those aspects directly. However, the ability to search and to make notes and highlights may make it easier for you to quickly remind yourself what you've already read. I find myself searching for names a lot, especially if a character hasn't made an appearance for a long time.

Also, alleviating the physical strains of reading a book may extend the amount of time that you can handle the mental exertion without triggering symptoms.

Other Benefits of e- Readers

Other features of an e-reader that can be helpful include:

  • It automatically saves your place if you fall asleep;
  • It can sync with your other devices, meaning you can pick up where you left off even when switching from the e-reader to a smart phone and back;
  • It generally fits better in a purse than a conventional book or magazine;
  • You can have multiple books, magazines, and newspapers with you at all times in case you get stuck waiting somewhere (such as the doctor's office, lab, or pharmacy) or when you're traveling;
  • E-books are generally less expensive than physical books;
  • You can shop for them without having to leave the house and at any time, such as when you have insomnia at 2 o'clock in the morning ;
  • You can often borrow e-books from libraries — again, at any time and without having to go anywhere.

The Sensory and Nostalgic Attachment to Physical Books

When the topic of e-readers comes up, there's always someone who says, "But I miss the feel and smell of a real book."

I wondered about that, too. I've always been an avid reader and I'm also an author, so it's not that I don't have a healthy love of and respect for books.

However, I have a few things to say to people who insist that physical books provide a better experience:

  1. Once you're lost in the book itself, you'll forget about the medium;
  2. Physical books get dusty, which means more cleaning and allergies;
  3. The physical benefits far outweigh the nostalgic element.

One thing I did that helped ease the transition was to get an e-book cover that I enjoyed the feel of. (It was a soft faux leather.) It wasn't long before I stopped missing a physical book. In fact, after using the e-reader exclusively for months, I read a hardback and hated having to hold it and position my body in standard reading positions. And even though it didn't appear dusty, and I tried dusting it as thoroughly as I could, it still caused allergy attacks.

I'd be devastated had to give up my e-reader. I rarely leave home without it. Plus, I can say without a doubt that I read more because of it, and that makes me happy.

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