Chronic pain often equates to chronic fatigue—arthritis sufferers are all too familiar with this fact.
According to a recent study, 61% of auto-immune arthritis sufferers experienced minor to extreme fatigue. Yet this is a subject that’s still considered quite controversial, largely because while it can be debilitating, it is usually also invisible.
In the context of arthritis, fatigue isn’t just about feeling tired after a big night out. It’s a physical issue that manifests as persistent weakness and lack of energy that affects your daily routine. It’s not something that you can power through after chugging a large cup of coffee; it’s the kind of tired where you feel like you need a nap right after you take a shower. This kind of fatigue can be difficult to explain to family and friends because they can’t see it. But make no mistake, it has a massive impact on your quality of life.
Why do arthritis patients experience fatigue?
There are a lot of reasons contributing to an arthritis patient’s fatigue.
For those who suffer from auto-immune arthritis, constant inflammation is likely adding more stress to the body, which leads to feelings of extreme tiredness. Round the clock pain is also a big factor. When you’re in constant pain, you tend to lose sleep; and losing sleep often leads to a rise in your pain symptoms, which then adds to your fatigue.
Medications you take to manage your arthritis symptoms could also play a role. DMARDs (disease modifying drugs) and biologics, designed to lower inflammation and reduce pain, tend to induce fatigue, especially on the days you’re supposed to take them.
Is fatigue something we will forever have to live with?
For a lot of us, yes. But while it can be challenging, it’s not impossible to manage.
True, there are no quick remedies that can completely eliminate it. But working closely with a trusted physician means you can create a program that is tailored to your unique needs. Between speaking to your doctor and making lifestyle adjustments, there are effective methods, tips, and tricks that you can try. For example:
- Start by tracking your fatigue—this helps you communicate your symptoms better to your healthcare team. You might notice that your fatigue feels so much worse on days when your pain keeps you awake all night; or on days when you take your arthritis medication. These are important details that will help you and your doctor understand the best steps to take to manage it.
- Check if you can adjust your medication dose or if you can adjust the timing of when you take it. A lot of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients take their DMARDs on a Friday in anticipation of the fatigue that tends to follow. This gives them the weekend to rest.
- Identify and treat possibly underlying medical issues that could be making your fatigue worse.
- Make a conscious effort to implement lifestyle changes to improve sleep habits, eat better, include exercise in your daily routine, and practice self-care.
- Give yourself permission to rest. We’re so used to constantly being on the go that we forget it’s actually OK to stop and rest. If you suffer from a chronic illness, you’ll need to take frequent breaks in between tasks. Other times, you will need to hibernate to recuperate, and you must allow yourself to do so without feeling like you’re letting yourself or people around you down.
- Choose energizing snacks such as fruits and drinks loaded with electrolytes to keep your energy up.
- If you drink coffee, be careful about your caffeine timing as it might contribute to you staying up at night.
- Take a walk—even if it’s the last thing you want to do. When fatigue sets in, physical activity can really help. While that may seem counterintuitive, pacing yourself and incorporating manageable aerobic and strengthening exercises can reduce pain, improve mobility and strengthen your joints.
If you’re an arthritis sufferer struggling with fatigue, remember that you’re not alone. But we do encourage you to discuss your fatigue with your healthcare team so they can help you manage it better and take appropriate steps to address it.
If you have more ideas on how to manage and beat arthritis fatigue, we’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below to share your thoughts or tips.