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Coping with fatigue

It's important to get the right balance between work, socialising and resting; and having arthritis can make this challenging.

It's also important to find time to exercise regularly. Staying fit and healthy and keeping your joints moving is a big part of managing your condition. Exercise will help you feel more energetic and sleep better.

The key is to listen to your body – know your limitations and rest when you need to. Overdoing it can cause discomfort or pain the following day.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a feeling of extreme physical or mental tiredness, or both. Common features of fatigue include:

  • your body and limbs feeling heavy and difficult to move
  • flu-like feelings of exhaustion
  • feeling that your energy has drained away.

If you have arthritis or a related condition, you may experience fatigue, especially during a flare-up. It shouldn't last and there are ways of managing fatigue.

Most of the time you'll have more or less the same amount of energy as your friends.

If you're feeling these symptoms, talk with a rheumatology nurse or consultant. 

It's important not to confuse lack of stamina, due to deconditioning (not being physically fit), with fatigue. If you're unfit you'll feel tired after exercise. With a gradual training programme your fitness, stamina and fatigue will improve.

Read more about fatigue and arthritis.

What can help with fatigue?

Pacing means managing your time and working within your limits. It involves being organised and sensible with your jobs. It can help manage fatigue.

Pacing can help you to work out your most important work and chores. Thinking and planning ahead is key.

To begin with, forget about non-essential activities and concentrate on the most important ones. Once you've worked these out, organise your day so that you alternate heavy and lighter activities in order to ensure that you have enough energy left for activities you enjoy.

Prioritising tasks can help you get the most urgent ones done and, if necessary postpone less important tasks. Having achieved something makes you feel better about yourself.

Take regular rests, pace yourself and allow lots of time to do activities.

Fatigue may have stopped you doing things you really want to, so it's worth thinking what you could achieve that would make you feel good (for example socialising with friends or getting back into a hobby).

Setting small, weekly goals can help you build up to what you really want to do as you start managing your fatigue.

You're much more likely to meet small, specific goals than vague ones or ones that aim too high. Your occupational therapist or rheumatology nurse specialist may be able to help you set and review goals.

If you're working and find the days are too long, you might find it helps to discuss your condition with your employer and ask about flexitime. You may need a letter from your consultant, but many employers will be happy to accommodate you.

Some general advice:

  • When you can, sit rather than stand.
  • Don't put extra stress on yourself. Deal with your worries and talk to someone close to you.
  • Relax, breathe deeply and avoid holding your breath during difficult tasks.
  • Avoid postures which increase levels of fatigue, for example bending and reaching. Make sure your shoulders and neck stay relaxed.

Read more about pacing.

For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.