Use of exercise for treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome

Sports Med. 1996 Jan;21(1):35-48. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199621010-00004.


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that results in moderate to severe disability, the primary feature of which is fatigue of unknown origin. There is a lot of interest in classifying, characterising and treating patients with CFS. Currently, the two major theories of a medical cause of CFS are viral infection and immune dysregulation. Patients report critical reductions in levels of physical activity, and many experience 'relapses' of severe symptoms following even moderate levels of exertion. Despite this, most studies report CFS patients to have normal muscle strength and either normal or slightly reduced muscle endurance. Histological and metabolic studies report mixed results: CFS patients have either no impairment or mild impairment of mitochondria and oxidative metabolism compared with sedentary controls. Current treatments for CFS are symptom-based, with psychological, pharmacological and rehabilitation treatments providing some relief but no cure. Immunological and nutritional treatments have been tried but have not provided reproducible benefits. Exercise training programmes are thought to be beneficial (if 'relapses' can be avoided), although few controlled studies have been performed. CFS is a long-lasting disorder that can slowly improve with time, but often does not. Further studies are needed to better understand the multiple factors that can cause chronic fatigue illness, as well as the effect that exercise training has on the symptoms of CFS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / diagnosis
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / physiopathology
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Muscles / physiology*
  • Treatment Outcome