Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a poorly understood condition characterized by extreme and debilitating fatigue that occurs for no apparent reason. Other symptoms include poor sleep, memory issues, reduced concentration, brain fog, muscle and joint pains, frequent headaches.
It is an invisible illness in many ways. Other people do not see it or do not want to believe in it. Even most people living with it remain undiagnosed as they fail to understand what’s wrong with their bodies. Lack of any overt changes in lab tests only adds to the invisibility of the ailment.
Modern science has a limited understanding of what causes CFS.
There are multiple theories regarding its causes like some chronic viral infection, stress, weakened immunity, hormonal disbalances. However, little is known about the role of each factor in the development of the disease.
Modern science is quite helpless at treating CFS.
Modern science has no cure for the condition. Even treatment protocols for CFS are quite vague. What does it mean for a patient? It says that visiting a doctor may or may not produce any results. Thus a need for using alternative therapies.
What is the best treatment for CFS?
There is no single treatment that may work for all. Pharmaceutical drugs have a role in the management of the condition. Doctors may confuse the condition with depression or other psychological disorders. However, treatment with anti-depressants and anti-seizure drugs rarely help in the condition.
CFS is best managed by understanding chronic disease models. These models have been proposed by various universities, healthcare agencies, WHO, and so on. This model says that people living with difficult to cure chronic ailments should be empowered with knowledge, and healthcare providers should act as partners in providing care.
In simple words, it means that the only way to get rid of the condition is through learning about the disease conditions, understanding the importance of self-care. It includes exploring various treatment methods and learning more about them.
Regretfully, there is no known natural supplement or methodology, or treatment procedure that will work in all the cases. Quite often, individuals living with CFS will have to learn things through trial and error. Nonetheless, some of the natural ways are known to help in many cases.
For most people, self-care should involve recognizing the disease condition, identifying the triggers, having adequate rest, sleep, and exercise. Dietary changes may help feel better, energized. Stress management has to be a vital part of CFS management too.
Some of the therapies that may help overcome fatigue, body aches, help overcome stress, may reduce depression are hot stone therapy, heat therapy, photon light therapy, far infrared therapy, negative ion therapy, PEMF therapy.
This article discusses each of these therapies in more detail so that a person knows what they are about and what to expect.
Hot stone therapy
It is a combination of two techniques, applying preheated stones to the specific parts of the body, and a gentle massage.
Massage therapy is well known for its relaxing effect, and it seems that combining it with hot stone therapy may increase its benefits. Hot stones, when applied with the knowledge of disease condition, at the well-known points on the body, stimulate nerve ending, and thus providing healing effect.
Hot stone therapy is especially suitable for relieving pain and fatigue. In CFS, it helps a person feel rejuvenated, with an upsurge in energy.
This therapy is also suitable for stress management and has a positive effect on cardiovascular health. Reduced muscle tension may help increase the level of motion. It may also help overcome low levels of muscular inflammation that may be contributing to excessive fatigue.
Further, hot stone therapy may help people living with CFS sleep better and for longer hours. This can also contribute to the beneficial effects of the treatment.
Generally, people living with CFS feel highly exhausted after certain physical activities. Going for a hot stone therapy after such events may make a difference and prevent bouts of severe tiredness.
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Any kind of treatment involving the application of heat to any part of the body would be regarded as heat therapy. This is a broad term and does not describe any particular therapy. Generally, doctors or therapists may use various methods like warm baths, water packs, special belts, apparatuses, heat lamps, and so on. Heat can be applied through either contact like in the case of water packs or from a distance like in the case of infrared lights.
This is one of the earliest methods known to people for relieving musculoskeletal pains. The good thing about this method is its affordability and accessibility. It is effective even when done at home; however, more useful when carried out under the supervision of a specialist.
Heat therapy undoubtedly helps in pains associated with a feeling of tiredness. Prolonged use of such treatment may also help feel relaxed and energized, thus helping feel better in CFS.
Heat therapy in CFS would differ in a way that it should be applied to the whole body or more generally. Since CFS is not about just a pain in some body-area, it is rather about generalized tiredness, malaise, and pain.
One of the proper ways of relieving CFS could be using various thermal baths, or going to dry saunas.
In one of the studies, patients reported feeling better after going to a dry sauna five times a week for four weeks continually. Each thermal session was followed by 30 minutes of rest.
Most studies regarding the use of heat therapy show that patients can expect to see good and sometimes even dramatic results after 15 to 25 sessions of thermal therapy.
Initially, heat therapy has to be quite intensive and must be used almost daily or at least 4 to 5 times a week. Once the symptoms have subsided, fewer sessions, like once or twice a week, would help maintain the results.
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Photon light therapy
It works quite differently than heat therapy or infrared light. It is a therapy that uses the visible range of light, meaning that it does not penetrate very deep. It means that it acts by influencing the various physiological processes in the upper layers of skin.
There are numerous ways in which photon light therapy is used. Small apparatuses that apply light to a particular part of the body help boost local blood flow, collagen production, and ATP production. It may positively affect regional energy balance. Further, it may also have some effect on the nerve endings resulting in reducing tenderness. Prolonged and frequent sessions may lead to reduced fatigue in CFS.
Depending on the type of photon light therapy used, it may also help improve circadian rhythm, help treat insomnia, improve symptoms of brain-fogging, and may reduce depression.
Photon light therapy is no magical solution to various health problems; however, the biggest example/proof of its efficacy is the beneficial effects of sunlight. Spending adequate time in sunlight may also help improve symptoms of CFS, sleep quality, and reduce depression. Photon light therapy is useful in a way that it can be used in any season, and it does not emit ultraviolet radiation and thus is safer – it provides more control and some additional benefits over sunlight.
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Far infrared therapy
It has lots in common with heat therapy, with some differences. This kind of treatment always uses infrared as a heat source. Infrared light has a larger wavelength than visible light and can penetrate deeper into the tissues. Researchers think that the warming effect of infrared light is just one way of working. It is quite probable that it helps by many other unknown mechanisms.
When it comes to CFS, researchers think that it helps loosen spastic muscles, tendons, and assist in relaxation. It also alters the nerve responses. It can reduce chronic fatigue along with pain in joints and muscles. Infrared therapy may also help maintain PH balance, which may contribute to its beneficial effect in chronic fatigue. It may also have some anti-inflammatory action.
Infrared therapy may alter immune responses, may influence vascular health. Thus, it can help overcome systemic diseases and related feelings of exhaustion.
Researchers think that in the short run, infrared therapy works by improving local blood flow and helping relax muscles, thus reducing fatigue. Whereas, on the regular use of therapy completely different kinds of benefits are involved like improved vascular health and reduced chronic inflammation.
Best of all, infrared therapy has no known side effects. It does not cause thermal injury even on prolonged use.
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Negative ION therapy
How do you feel when you go out to the mountains, sit near a waterfall, walk on beaches? How does the air quality at these places, away from densely populated areas, influence you? Everyone knows that it is not just about beautiful views; there is something magical in the air at such places of natural beauty.
It seems that science knows a bit about what makes us feel air so fresh at these places. It appears that it is due to negative ions in the air. It occurs when there is one extra electron in an oxygen molecule. This results in a negative ion. This negative ion attracts dust, microbes, undesired particles, and finally becomes too heavy to remain afloat and falls. It acts as a natural air filter/cleaner.
However, there is much more than air-cleansing properties that are responsible for such effects. Science is not entirely sure about how negative ions work. However, clinical studies show that they work to relieve seasonal affective disorder, depression, improve sleeping, and help overcome chronic fatigue.
Most individuals living with CFS would agree with the fantastic energizing effect of fresh air. It is one of the most effective ways to forget about one’s chronic health problem. Another proof that negative ion therapy works is the statistics that people living in rural regions are far less probable to suffer from CFS.
However, one cannot frequently go to such faraway places. Fortunately, one can experience the healing effect of fresh air with the help of negative ION therapy.
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Uses Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field (PEMF) to treat medical conditions. Since the invention of methods of producing electricity, people have experimented extensively with electromagnetic waves and their various uses for health.
These waves can penetrate deep inside the tissues resulting in the transfer of energy. These waves can increase the production of energy by cells by stimulating mitochondria, improving local blood flow. It also stimulates the production of some other chemical messengers. Therefore, the US FDA has approved PEMF for the treatment of slow-healing fractures to depression. US FDA approval says that in these conditions, it was shown to work better than placebo.
Although there is still not enough research regarding its use for chronic fatigue, however, early studies indicate that it may help reduce the feeling of tiredness and have a positive impact on the mood. Many clinics are using this therapy regularly to treat chronic fatigue with great success.
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How does a person make a choice of therapy for chronic fatigue?
To begin with, forget about drugs, as there is no medication approved for the treatment of CFS. None of the drugs is shown to help considerably. Doctors generally give medications to fight symptoms like pain and depression, with the help of medicines that may be quite toxic when used continually.
This leaves only one option for treating chronic fatigue syndrome that is the use of alternative therapies. In CFS, complementary medicine is the primary way to treat.
There is no way to say what may work better for the person. Therefore, the only way is to try multiple therapies for treatment. Chronic fatigue syndrome is challenging to overcome and requires intensive treatment with these therapies for about eight weeks for optimal results, though some improvement may be felt from the very first week.