PhotoAfter a long day, it’s common for many people to arrive at home feeling completely exhausted. But while most of us are able to shake these feelings with a little rest, there are some people out there who aren’t so fortunate.

Those who have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) regularly suffer from extreme fatigue that is not alleviated by rest. This type of exhaustion can last for a long time, and it can be compounded by muscle pain, headaches, flu-like symptoms, and memory problems – issues that make it extremely difficult to go about everyday activities.

Symptoms of CFS can flare up at seemingly random times, and medical experts have yet to figure out the underlying reasons. However, researchers have conducted a study that suggests that the issue originates in the muscles and nerves after experiencing some sort of physical strain.

Symptom flares

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine set out to see if CFS symptoms truly were worse after some sort of physical exercise or strain. They utilized 80 participants -- 60 of them had been diagnosed with CFS and 20 did not have it.

Participants were asked to undergo 15 minutes of either a passive supine straight leg raise, which consists of an individual lifting their legs up into the air while lying down flat, or a sham leg raise, which mimics this motion but does not cause any body strain.

During this process, participants were asked to report levels of fatigue, body pain, lightheadedness, and other CFS symptoms every five minutes. After this first session, participants were asked to come back 24 hours later and report on these same factors.

Extending understanding of CFS

The results of the study showed that all participants who took part in the “true strain” exercise reported greater levels of lightheadedness and higher overall combined scores for all factors than those who took part in the sham exercise. Additionally, participants who had CFS reported greater severity of symptoms 24 hours after the first session.

While the results may seem understandable, or even obvious, the researchers say that their results shed light on how everyday body strain might induce feelings of fatigue in those with CFS.

“These findings have practical implications for understanding why exercise and the activities of daily living might be capable of provoking CFS symptoms. If simply holding up the leg of someone with CFS to a degree that produces a mild to moderate strain is capable of provoking their symptoms, prolonged or excessive muscle strain beyond the usual range of motion that occurs during daily activities might also produce symptom flares,” said Dr. Kevin Fontaine, co-author of the study’s paper.

Dr. Peter Rowe, lead author of the study and director of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center Chronic Fatigue Clinic, agrees with the assessment and further states that the findings indicate “that increased mechanical sensitivity may be a contributor to the provocation of symptoms in [CFS].”

The full study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE

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