How Fatigue Impacts the Lives of Osteoarthritis Patients

How Patients Feel and Their Coping Strategies

Sleeping man
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You may find yourself limiting your activities due to fatigue if you have osteoarthritis. Studies have shown fatigue to be common among people with osteoarthritis and a factor in their quality of life. Fatigue is typically associated with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other inflammatory rheumatic conditions but it can be seen in osteoarthritis as well.

Effects of Fatigue on Physical Activity in Osteoarthritis

A 2012 study showed fatigue was a factor in reduced levels of physical activity by people with symptomatic knee and hip osteoarthritis. The coping strategies of guarding, resting, task persistence, and pacing were shown to moderate the effects of fatigue. Guarding includes bracing, limping, and stiffening. Pacing refers to breaking up activity time, alternating activity and rest periods. People who used pacing often did it because they were having symptoms rather than planning to pace their activities. Task persistence means that a person continued with the activity despite feeling symptoms.

A small study of older adults with osteoarthritis found that a bout of standardized physical activity produced increased fatigue on the day of the activity and the participants reduced their overall activity for the rest of the day (as measured by a fitness monitor device). Interestingly, their fatigue was lowered for the three days after the task and their activity levels returned to normal, as measured by the device.

Another small study of older adults with found that those with osteoarthritis were four times more likely to have more fatigue after a period of a high level of physical activity.

Study of Fatigue in Osteoarthritis

A study published in 2008 explored how osteoarthritis patients with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis or hip osteoarthritis experienced fatigue. The researchers found the subjects had notable amounts of fatigue which substantially impacted their lives.

Fatigue was described by study participants as exhaustion, being tired, and coming up against a brick wall. Participants generally viewed fatigue as different from sleepiness and they drew a distinction between physical and mental fatigue. Their mean fatigue score was 30.9 on a scale of 52.

When asked what factors increase fatigue, participants replied:

The study participant said mental health affected whether they felt fatigue and their mood was, in turn, affected by fatigue. Participants also said fatigue impacted their physical function, including their ability to participate in social activities and other usual daily activities (such as household chores). As a solution to the fatigue-related problems, study participants said they rest, exercise, avoid activities, or get assistance with activities. Interestingly, study participants revealed that they did not discuss their fatigue with anyone other than their spouse.

The researchers recommended further research to explore the role of fatigue in osteoarthritis and to develop strategies that would minimize the impact of fatigue on daily living for osteoarthritis patients. But it's clear that osteoarthritis is not exempt from the effects of fatigue.

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