The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Fatigue

How to Cope With Chronic Pain and Fatigue

Chronic Pain and Fatigue

Fatigue is defined as the lack of energy, or lethargy of body and mind, possibly caused by sleep deficit. Fatigue has many effects on daily life. It has been proven to cause insufficient sleep, associated with cognitive problems, reduced job performance, reduced motivation, increased safety risks, and physiological changes.

Fatigue-related problems are also believed to cost the United States an estimated $18 billion dollars per year in lost productivity and accidents. More than 1,500 fatalities, 100,000 crashes, and 76,000 injuries annually are attributed to fatigue-related drowsiness on the highway.

Why Does Chronic Pain Make You Tired?

For people suffering from chronic pain, fatigue can be a natural result of their condition. It is simply exhausting to deal with an unpleasant feeling, like pain, for days on end.

Doctor appointments, medication, and worrying about the pain, all take an emotional and physical toll on one’s energy. Some people with non-apparent disabilities, such as chronic pain, if not fatigued by the disabilities themselves, can become tired by the constant effort required to pass as non-disabled.

Sometimes the pain does not go away when resting or laying down. It is difficult to get a good night’s sleep or concentrate on relaxing if one is in pain or uncomfortable.

How Does a Lack of Sleep Affect Pain?

Sleep is important. The National Sleep Foundation details how crucial sleep is to our well-being and energy levels.

Sleep has been proposed to be a physiological adaptation to conserve energy; it restores energy to our bodies, helps clear waste from the brain, and can even clear out negative emotions from our thought process. There is a growing body of evidence that sleep duration is linked to metabolism and the regulation of appetite.


If someone with chronic pain manages to fall asleep, the pain can cause that person to wake up multiple times per night, resulting in low-quality sleep and a feeling of fatigue ensuing in an even more rapid depreciation of the body.

The fatigue a chronic pain sufferer endures can feed into the pain cycle and make one perceive the pain as even worse, making everyday tasks such as putting on clothes or getting out of bed very difficult. It can also lead to social alienation because you are simply not up for something that requires energy, such as going out or seeing friends.

How to Deal With Chronic Pain and Fatigue

Living with chronic pain and fatigue can be a challenge, but there are a few ways that may help you overcome your tiredness and conserve energy. Below are some coping with chronic pain and fatigue strategies you can implement today.

The Spoon Theory

The spoon theory by Christine Donato explains why people with a chronic illness have reduced the amount of energy available for productive tasks.

“Spoons” are used as an intangible unit of measurement to track how much energy a person has every day. Each activity costs a certain amount of spoons and won’t be replaced until the next day. Someone who runs out of spoons loses the ability to do anything other than rest.

Disabled or ill people must plan their activities to ensure that every day is manageable because their disability uses up a lot of their spoons. On the other hand, healthy people have a never-ending supply of spoons thus never need to worry about running out.

Spoons can be replenished not only through sleep but also through exercise and nutrition, maintaining a sleep diary and regular schedule, relaxation therapy, as well as medicine and visiting your doctor.

Exercise and Nutrition

A proper nutrition and regular exercise program can at least help to increase one’s energy when dealing with chronic pain and fatigue.

Certain foods, such as raw fruits, egg whites, complex carbohydrates, yogurt, nuts, and lean meats are known to give a boost to one’s energy. Sugar, simple carbohydrates, and fried food are prone to making one feel lethargic and lacking energy.

Changing the frequency of your meals can also help to increase energy levels and it varies person to person. Some people achieve a boost with multiple small meals throughout the day, while others prefer the concept of three solid meals every day.

Next page: More information on exercise and nutrition, and other ways to cope with fatigue and chronic pain.

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Ali EsfahaniAli Esfahani

Ali has been suffering from chronic pain for over four years and hopes to help people like him in the future as a physician. He blogs about life with chronic pain at The Professional Patient.

Dec 10, 2018
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