Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is real, and physical therapists (PTs) can play a significant role in helping those who experience it regain at least some semblance of their pre-CFS lives—but only if those PTs truly listen to the patient and validate their struggles.
This month's PT in Motion magazine takes an in-depth look at CFS, tracking its emergence from a set of symptoms dismissively called "yuppie flu" to the more recent establishment of CFS as a very real, very life-changing physiological condition that could come to be more widely known as systemic exertion tolerance disease (SEID). Currently, CFS is the more common term for the condition and is the terminology used in the article.
But the article is more than a lesson in history: Associate Editor Eric Ries focuses on how PTs, including one with CFS herself, apply their training to help patients respond to a condition that is often misunderstood and can leave people feeling helpless and isolated.
The feature includes practical insights on the kinds of interventions used by PTs who've worked with patients with CFS, as well as accompanying articles on the basics of the condition, the emergence of consensus around the need for a transition to use of “SEID” instead of “CFS,” and resources for more information.
However, as stressed by nearly every PT interviewed for the article, working effectively with patients with CFS requires more than an understanding of the physiological elements of the condition, and treatment won't be effective if the PT thinks of treatment from a one-size-fits-all perspective. Instead, PTs needs to fine-tune their ability to truly listen and empathize.
In being interviewed for the article, Adriaan Louw, PT, PhD, tells PT in Motion that listening and truly being present with the patient can have a powerful impact almost immediately. "Ninety percent of our patients with chronic fatigue syndrome start crying during [the patient interview] process," Louw says, "simply because we're spending time with them, taking them seriously, and demonstrating that we care about them as human beings."
"The Real Story About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" is featured in the September issue of PT in Motion and is open to all viewers—pass it along to nonmember colleagues to show them 1 of the benefits of belonging to APTA. Printed editions of the magazine are mailed to all members who have not opted out; digital versions are available online to members.