How Exercise Testing Could Help Treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Post-Exertional Malaise Research

Exercise can lead to extreme exhaustion in chronic fatigue syndrome. Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) researchers say exercise tolerance may be clinically useful for identifying the severity of post-exertional malaise as well as establishing baseline intensities for prescribed exercise. They also found numerous measurements that were different between those with ME/CFS and healthy people in the control group people.

Exercise is a controversial topic in this disease because of post-exertional malaise.This symptom causes people to have severe symptom flares following even minimal exertion.

However, the amount of exercise that can be tolerated his unique to each person. Someone with a mild case may be able to tolerate regular daily activities plus moderate exercise, while someone with a severe case may not even be able to take care of themselves without getting sicker.

In this small study, participants did three minutes of a handgrip exercise. Researchers noted differences in:

  • Two measures of oxygen use by the tissues involved;
  • A measurement of the force of muscle contractions called tension-time index;
  • Ratings of perceived exertion.

Researchers concluded that further study may lead to methods of ranking the severity of post-exertional malaise as well as helping doctors prescribe proper levels of exercise for their ME/CFS patients.

Exercise & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

You can find a lot of extreme opinions online when it comes to exercise and ME/CFS. On one hand, you have some doctors who say graded exercise therapy should be used as a front-line treatment for the disease.

On the other, you'll find some patients and patient advocates say any exertion whatsoever is detrimental to anyone with this condition.

There's still a lot about this topic the medical science doesn't understand. However, the truth is likely somewhere in between the two positions. Some people with ME/CFS say they've benefited from exercise therapy while others say they've been harmed by it.

Many doctors agree that the important thing is finding the appropriate level of exercise for the individual patient, and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

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Miller RR, et al. Journal of translational medicine. 2015 May 20;13:159. Submaximal exercise testing with near infrared spectroscopy in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome patients compared to healthy controls: a case-controlled study.

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