9 Ways to Manage Fatigue with MS

by Lisa Emrich Patient Advocate

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)—affecting about 80 percent of those living with the disease. Fatigue is more than tiredness and can become overwhelming. It interferes with your ability to get things done and may zap your energy so you can’t do what you really want to do. Fatigue can make it hard to put thoughts together or may make you feel like you’re dragging around concrete blocks. Without a doubt, fatigue can easily derail your daily activities.

Fatigued woman.

Fatigue is not laziness!

Fatigue can be tricky. To others, it might seem that the person with MS fatigue is just being “lazy” or doesn’t care enough to get things done. That is simply NOT TRUE!! People with fatigue often WANT to participate and be productive. It just becomes really hard to do so. Although MS-related fatigue can be quite challenging to live with, there are steps you can take to reduce its impact. Start with these strategies to help manage your MS fatigue.

Woman relaxing and listening to music.

Listen to your body

One of the most helpful things my physical therapist taught me when we worked together to address fatigue was to make sure that I honored the fatigue my body felt. It does very little good to push yourself beyond the point that the body can function. You may actually do more harm than good. So learn to rest BEFORE fatigue puts you flat on your back.

Man clearing snow off his windshield.

Prioritize the important stuff

You can help yourself by thinking hard about what is most important to get done on any given day. Which activities are non-negotiable? By determining where you need to spend your energy in advance, you better manage that energy and protect yourself from fatigue or getting stretched too thin. By prioritizing, you can be realistic and responsible at the same time.

Woman planning out her chores for the week.

Pace yourself

Once you know what are your “must dos” for the day, week, or month, it’s time to gradually and gently get things done. Trying to do too much too quickly, particularly when you are feeling full of energy, is likely to deplete all of your energy and significantly worsen the fatigue. It is important to learn what your body can and cannot handle and to plan accordingly. Remember the previous suggestion—rest before you feel wiped out.

Family doing chores together.

Activate your support team and delegate

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. Delegating tasks is actually a skill of a great leader. Call upon members of your support team—family members, friends, co-workers—to help you accomplish specific tasks or activities. You might be surprised at how allowing others to help you will also boost their morale. Doing good for others helps make you feel good. And, you get to conserve valuable energy at the same time.

Senior man doing light exercise.

Exercise and move more

Research has shown that exercise helps to reduce fatigue. I know I said to avoid doing too much when you are fatigued, but exercise doesn’t have to be riding the exercise bike for 30 minutes or running a marathon. Exercise can simply be moving your body a little more than you normally do otherwise. Participating in physical activity (no matter how small) can help to increase your energy level. But always talk to your doctor or physical therapist first to see what exercise options might be best for you.

Assistive jar opener.

Use assistive tools and technology

Assistive devices for people with MS include more than canes and scooters. There are a number of devices that help you to conserve energy and physical strength with everyday tasks: shower chairs, wide-handled kitchen utensils, power steering or vehicle hand controls, automatic jar openers, wheeled hampers, ergonomic chairs and desks, speech-to-text technology, long-handled vacuum cleaners, brooms, or dust pans, and dressing tools such as long-handled shoe horns, button helper, or sock devices.

Home with open space.

Optimize your environment

Evaluate the environment at home or work. Factors such as poor lighting, extreme temperatures, and the layout of furniture in your home or office could contribute to fatigue. Consult with an occupational therapist who could make suggestions for simple changes you might make to your environment to streamline your space and help you to conserve energy and improve productivity.

Man sleeping soundly.

Improve your quality of sleep

Trouble sleeping at night can contribute to daytime sleepiness and fatigue. If you have trouble with energy or staying awake during the day, it may be time to investigate what’s going on at night. Symptoms that may interfere with sleep include bladder or bowel dysfunction, spasticity, pain, dyesthesias, insomnia, and sleep apnea. Talk to your neurologist about how to manage these symptoms. When you experience fewer troubles at night, you may feel more energized during the day.

Man talking to his doctor about medication.

Take medication

In addition to many of the energy management strategies previously mentioned, certain medications may help to reduce the effects of MS-related fatigue. While no medications have been specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for MS fatigue, there are drugs — such as amantadine, modafinil, armodafinil, and methylphenidate — that are commonly prescribed to combat MS-related fatigue. Speak with your physician about what medications are available to you.

Lisa Emrich
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Emrich

Living with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid Arthritis, Lisa Emrich is an award-winning, passionate patient advocate, health writer, classical musician, and backroad cyclist. Her stories inspire others to live better and stay active. Lisa is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa frequently works with organizations in support of better policies, patient-centered research, and research funding. Lisa serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the MSHealthCentral Facebook page.