Many of us live with both chronic pain and chronic fatigue - but which is more difficult to manage on a daily basis?
A while ago I put up an Instagram post about how I had managed to get eight hours sleep - a complete rarity for me! Yet despite the extra rest I still felt so tired, because sadly that's how chronic fatigue works. We don't tend to get refreshing sleep that makes us feel full of energy the next day.
So I asked my Instagram friends which is more difficult, chronic pain or fatigue, and got so many responses. I've done some math and 43 people replied in a way that gave an opinion on the question. Twenty-seven said chronic fatigue was more difficult, ten chronic pain and six said, to quote Sheryl of @achronicvoice, a version of 'both are horrible but in profoundly different ways'.
Here are some of the opinions and suggestions they gave.
Chronic fatigue is more difficult
The majority of people said that chronic fatigue is more difficult to manage on a daily basis. I wasn't sure whether to be surprised or not about this. After all, neither pain or fatigue are something we want to be a part of our lives. It's definitely not that one or other is the easy option.
These are some of the main reasons given for finding fatigue more difficult:
Fatigue is more difficult (even impossible) to alleviate
Personally I find fatigue virtually impossible to 'treat' in the way that you can, at times, with pain. No matter how much sleep I get I am always in some degree of 'fatigue fog'. I want to sit down, often lie down and most tasks feel tiring and hard.
This was echoed in one of the comments:
‘Fatigue is I think is the most difficult thing I face because nothing helps it. As you say, there’s pain relief, warm baths, sleep etc to help with most things, but fatigue is inescapable’
Pacing can definitely help, but it certainly isn't a cure and, for me at least, and doesn't make the fatigue go away. As another Insta friend said, 'caffeine, sleep, movement, stress reduction help but nothing quite eliminates the fatigue, which makes it that much more exhausting’.
The emotional aspect of fatigue
Somewhat related to the previous point, fatigue is emotionally tough. It is hard to want to do so much, but for fatigue to make it difficult or impossible. It is frustrating and upsetting, and as one respondent said, so defeating.
‘I think fatigue can be more emotionally challenging for me in some ways because as you said – you can literally point to all the rest you are getting – and feel NONE of the benefits. It’s so defeating!’
Fatigue is more difficult to explain to others
I hadn't really thought about this too much, but it is certainly true that most people have experienced pain in some way. Whether it's a headache, a broken arm or a twisted ankle, most people know what pain is. So they can relate a little more to chronic pain (although not fully in relation to the chronic aspect, I don't feel).
With fatigue, perhaps not. I often find myself explaining it as that feeling when you have a really late night a few days in a row, with little sleep and perhaps a cold or flu too. That's what fatigue feels like. Every. single. day. Yet, I find others can't relate in the same way, or not understand the fact that a good night's sleep won't solve the problem.
One Insta friend also remarked on the issue that fatigue brings to your work life:
‘Definitely the fatigue!! So hard to explain to my employers’
Fatigue definitely affects most aspects of life, family time, work life and social life too.
Chronic pain as more difficult
Chronic pain is emotionally and physically tough for many of us. I don't remember a moment in the past ten years when at least one part of my body wasn't hurting. I have head pain constantly, along with joint pain and so much more.
Chronic pain prevents daily activities
Pain, simply put, can prevent us from doing what we would like to on a given day, week or month. A migraine attack can push us into bed with the curtains drawn for some relief, or joint pain to the sofa as standing is too hard.
As one Insta friend said:
‘sometimes even minor movements cause pain and prevents me from otherwise easy tasks. Like keeping things tidy and organized the way I prefer, or even working outside the home, sitting or standing too long makes those ‘sweet spots’ scream and flare-ups such’
Easy tasks become like huge mountains to climb, from getting up and ready for the day to being active in the usual way. Chronic pain affects our home, work and social lives.
Chronic pain can cause fatigue
This is summed up one respondent:
‘I think pain because a bad pain day can cause bad fatigue’
More on pain and fatigue as intertwined below!
Chronic pain is emotionally tough
I think most people would agree that both pain and fatigue are emotionally draining, at least at times. One person commented that for her, 'the mental toll during a bad pain day is worse'. Perhaps we will have different opinions on which we find worse personally. Or perhaps it varies day to day in terms of which symptom is flaring at the time.
Chronic pain and fatigue are both difficult
Pain and fatigue are intertwined
I think most of us find that pain and fatigue play off of each other. Chronic pain can cause fatigue, and when fatigue is higher it can make pain feel even worse than usual. It's a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. From one respondent:
‘Urgh such a toss up. It feels like they are intertwined. My pain make me tired and if I am tired my pain is often less bearable . . .'
I particularly find this with migraine pain. The pain can often start first, and then within an hour or so I am utterly exhausted. My bed calls me and I hope that I can sleep both to hopefully wake to less pain but also to try and alleviate the fatigue as well.
Managing chronic pain and fatigue is a balancing act
This was summed up by one Insta friend:
‘I find juggling the two most difficult! Fibro wants exercise and CFS wants rest. It’s a delicate tightrope I’m always balancing!’
Living with multiple conditions often means walking that tightrope or trying to figure out which symptom to treat first, or even deciding whether to take a treatment that can help one symptom but potentially make another worse.
Every day is different
And of course, every day is different with chronic illness. Some days the pain is flaring, others it's the fatigue. We have to hope they don't gang up on us and come together in too much of a difficult way.
‘Both are so hard, but on different days! One day my pain is more than fatigue, the next it’s the fatigue. But I guess that’s fibromyalgia for you – unpredictable!’
Treatments and products for chronic pain
After the Instagram post, I asked on my stories for suggestions of the most helpful treatments for those living with chronic pain. Here are some of the most often mentioned treatments:
Therapies and treatments
Ice or heat
Menthol products (such as 4 head stick)
Headphones (to block out noise)
Sunglasses (for light sensitivity)
Epsom salts or magnesium soak
Koldtec headache halo (wearable ice wrap)
Heated electric blanket
Ginger tea or ginger supplements
Listening to music
and one of the biggest ones - rest!
*Migraine Shields has kindly given me the code throughthefibro for my readers for 20% off
I hope this post on which is more difficult chronic pain or chronic fatigue was interesting and the suggestions for treatments is helpful!
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Please follow the advice of your doctor as to all medical treatments, supplements and dietary choices, as set out in my disclaimer. I am not a medical professional, and this post, as well as all other posts on this blog, are for informational purposes only.