The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Fatigue

Exercise and Nutrition

Some people turn to caffeine for that energy boost when fatigued but its effects wear off after a couple of hours, cause a slump afterward, and can interfere with the natural sleep cycle.

Exercise is also a great way to improve one’s energy levels.  In a study published in the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics journal in 2008, it found that inactive folks who normally complained of fatigue could increase energy up to 20 percent while decreasing fatigue by as much as 65 percent by participating in a routine, low-intensity exercise program.

One might think that exercising would tire a person out even more but it is quite the opposite. Aerobic exercise has been shown to spark the mitochondria in our body’s cells to produce more energy to meet the increased energy requirements created by exercise. Although it is probably difficult to exercise with chronic pain, one can still try a stationary bike, short walks outside, and water aerobic exercises.

Maintaining a Sleep Diary and Regular Schedule

Having a regular time to wake up each morning and go to bed each night can help with sleep and overall energy levels. Regular sleep events can help strengthen circadian rhythms and leads to regular times of sleep onset.

Writing down how you slept each night and factors that could have interrupted with your sleep can help analyze what leads to sleep problems.

Relaxation Therapies

Relaxation techniques can help ease one’s mind and not have them so focused on the pain.

Focused breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, autogenic training, and meditation are all ways to relax, reduce stress, and decrease fatigue.


Fitting relaxation therapies into a daily schedule can help increase results in both body and mind.

Medicine and Visiting Your Doctor

If none of the previous alternative methods mentioned are helping, then it could be time to have a discussion with your doctor about taking supplements or medication for sleep.

There are several natural sleep aids, such as tryptophan, melatonin, and various herbs that are available at most retail locations. Newer medications in the market are available that don’t have as many side effects as previous sleeping pills.

Open communication with your doctor about fatigue and chronic pain can lead to a proper remedy for these problems.

What’s Next for Chronic Pain and Fatigue?

Fatigue and chronic pain are often linked because of many possible reasons. The pain can be exhausting to simply deal with every day, can interfere with one’s sleep, and cause one to run out of daily spoons, as Donato’s spoon theory suggests.

The lack of energy can have many possible consequences; it can feed into the pain cycle and make the pain worse, cause irritability, decreased motivation, and a higher risk for accidents.

Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to combat the fatigue that may be associated with chronic pain…

  • A nutrition and low-intensity exercise program can help regulate schedules.
  • Various relaxation therapies can aid in relaxing both body and mind to steer focus away from chronic pain.
  • Maintaining and documenting a regular sleep schedule can naturally increase energy levels and decrease fatigue.
  • Natural and pharmacologic sleep aids are also options after consulting with a doctor.

Fatigue may be hard enough to deal with, but the methods described above are just a few ways to help combat the lack of energy associated with chronic pain.


NCBI (The Effects of Fatigue and Sleepiness on Nurse Performance and Patient Safety)

WebMD (Exercise for Energy: Workouts that Work)

Help Guide (Sleeping Pills & Natural Sleep Aids)

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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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