5 Ways to Deal with Fatigue When You Have Chronic Pain

Learn how to get through your day when facing pain and the fatigue that comes with it.

Feb 10, 2022

Shelby Deering

Medical ReviewerMeera K. Kirpekar, MD

tired man laying on couch rubbing head

We don’t need to tell you: Chronic pain can be exhausting. Facing an uncomfortable condition day in and day out takes its toll on your mind, body, and soul.

You’re tired from experiencing the pain itself. You’re tired because you’re not sleeping well. You’re tired from just trying to get through your daily schedule, something that can feel more like attempting to scale Mount Everest.

While some conditions, such as fibromyalgia, chiefly cause pain, and in turn, fatigue, other conditions, like chronic fatigue syndrome, are marked by exhaustion first and then pain.

Meera Kirpekar, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Care, and Pain Medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, says that any pain condition can also present with fatigue, as pain and exhaustion often go hand-in-hand.

How Chronic Pain and Fatigue Are Connected

Chronic pain and fatigue are the yin and the yang of misery—one feeds off the other, feeds off the other, on and on. To start, the last thing you want to do when you’re always in pain is be active. “This leads to muscle breakdown, weakness, and fatigue, also known as deconditioning,” says Dr. Kirpekar.

Then, your sleep can be continually interrupted by pain. “This, of course, causes daytime fatigue because you don’t wake up feeling refreshed,” Dr. Kirpekar says. “Poor sleep also causes an increase in inflammation in the body, which in turn worsens pain and thereby fatigue.”

Chronic pain can additionally cause or worsen feelings of depression and anxiety, which Dr. Kirpekar says can take a huge toll on both physical and mental health.

“When the body is in a constant high-stress state, it’s inevitable fatigue will set in,” she says. “High stress levels also lead to higher levels of cortisol being released in the body, which worsens inflammation, also leading to worsened pain and fatigue.”

Lastly, pain medications can also cause fatigue since “feeling tired” is a common side effect of many medications, as Dr. Kirpekar points out.

How to Feel More Energized

Even though your fatigue may, at times, feel like a black hole that you can’t crawl out of, you can feel better and more energized throughout the day. Dr. Kirpekar shares her best tips.

1. Improve your sleep.

Dr. Kirpekar says, “Restorative sleep is so important to decrease fatigue, so addressing sleep is crucial, whether that means getting control of your pain to sleep better, seeing a physician to help assess your sleep, or creating a calming environment with no distractions so you can get to sleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night.”

2. Eat more nourishing foods.

Since inflammation plays such a large role in chronic pain and fatigue, Dr. Kirpekar strongly advises improving one’s diet to feel better. This can include more whole-food, plant-based eats, “as well as quitting smoking and lowering alcohol intake,” she adds. “This will go a long way in decreasing pain as well as feeling more energized.”

3. Try gentle exercise.

According to Dr. Kirpekar, cardiovascular exercise has been shown to improve pain and fatigue in fibromyalgia. “But exercise in general is important for improving pain conditions and fatigue due to an increase in muscle strength to reverse deconditioning as well as a decrease in inflammation,” she says.

4. Consider your mental health.

If you continually experience pain and fatigue, it could be time to evaluate your mental health.

“It’s so important to address mental health, particularly depression, anxiety, and stress levels, to combat both pain and fatigue,” Dr. Kirpekar shares. For this, you can reach out to your primary care physician or speak to a psychologist.

5. Take another look at your meds.

“Assess your medications,” Dr. Kirpekar recommends. “Speak to your doctor to inquire if medication side effects may be contributing to your fatigue and see if adjustments need to be made.”

Reach Out for Support

Although chronic pain and fatigue can oftentimes feel incredibly isolating, you should know that you are far from alone. It can be helpful to reach out to supportive people, like a partner, close friends or family members, or even a support group with members who are experiencing the same things you are.

“For those who suffer from these conditions, it can be difficult to maintain social relationships,” Dr. Kirpekar observes. “We often don’t address the importance of maintaining social connections, which has been that much more difficult over the past two years. Social relationships with friends and family are so important for improving mental health, particularly conditions like depression and anxiety that worsen chronic pain and fatigue.”


Notes: This article was originally published January 28, 2022 and most recently updated February 10, 2022.