Chronic fatigue syndrome: an update

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, is an elusive and frustrating illness. It's considered by some to be a new malady, by others an old disease with a new name. The term CFS was first coined in 1985 after a number of individuals from Incline Village, Nev. came down with flu and mononucleosis-like symptoms that never seemed to resolve. Several theories have been proposed: it's viralŠ or fungalŠ or environmental. The experts vehemently disagree as to the cause while patients continue to suffer vague debilitating symptoms of fatigue, joint pain, low grade fever and depression, to name a few.

A clinical evaluation includes a review of the patient's medical history --with an examination of both the physical and mental -- and some screening lab tests. The condition is diagnosed by elimination of other well-defined illnesses such as cancer, depression, autoimmune disease, hormonal disorders and subacute infections. Although it can be diagnosed only through this process of elimination, CFS is a genuine clinical condition whose cause and treatment are the focus of intense research.

Brenneke School of Massage in Seattle has recently teamed up with Dr. Buchwald of The Chronic Fatigue Clinic, a noted expert in CFS at Harborview Medical Center, to bring significant relief for those suffering from CFS. The treatment does not consist of radical new drugs and therapies but rather a very old therapy, massage.

''Both CFS and its sometimes co-diagnosed disease fibromyalgia, are almost perfect for therapeutic massage,'' states Dr. Buchwald. He particularly likes Swedish Massage because it helps patients relax and enables the individual to rest and sleep more deeply. Additional benefits of massage for patients with these multi-faceted illnesses are the release of muscle holding patterns, deep relaxation, and increased circulation and hydration to all the cells in the body, especially the muscles. It also activates the patient's lymphatic system, allowing the body to flush toxins from the system. This is particularly important for the patient suffering CFS or fibromyalgia where exercise is limited or causes exacerbations of symptoms.

Massage also helps manage the pain of CFS and frequently is the only thing that helps. ''It makes the difference between being able to walk, work and not suffer migraine headaches'' says one patient. Another patient claimed: ''By getting massage every other week I was able to cut back on the use of narcotics and my muscles don't get nearly as stiff.'' Trigger points were also found to not be as tender or as frequent.

Treatment for these kind of chronic maladies can be difficult at best. Instead of thinking in the terms of cure, we must think in terms of improving our day-to-day living -- reducing pain and other symptoms while increasing our activity. Indeed, some patients do find their answers through the use of prescription medication. Most find that a combination of therapies brings the most lasting and best results. Certainly this is what I see in my practice.

Answers to complex disease problems in a complex world will never be easy. Be open to new ideas. Although massage is not new, it may be new to you -- and it may be your best answer for all those aches and pains.

I commend the students at The Brenneke School of Massage. Both CFS sufferer and student are learning. One is learning healing of self; the other healing of self and others. Can they be separated?

Till next time, Rebecca

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 6, 2000

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