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Chronic Neuroimmune Diseases
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Last updated January 1, 2014

Energy Conservation

©1997 Dianne Smalley, Reprinted from the Monterey Peninsula CFS/MD News

This information comes from a workbook that was mentioned at the AACFS conference: "Rehabilitation Through Learning: Energy Conservation and Joint Protection." It is a workbook that deals mainly with Rheumatoid Arthritis, but I think it is also important since some of us have many of the same symptoms including the fatigue and joint pains. It is from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by Gloria Furst, OTR, MPH, with Lynn H. Gerber, M.D. and Cynthia Smith, OTR.

Energy conservation is a process of saving energy and better distributing the energy you have over the time you need to use it. If the energy you have is used up at the beginning of the day, you have none left for other things you may need or want to do. People with CFS/FM often sleep poorly which results in additional fatigue during the day.

Unnecessary muscle tension in certain body positions drains energy. Good posture is the head and back held straight and arms relaxed at the shoulders. Poor posture uses unnecessary energy against gravity for hunched shoulders, curved back, and the neck and head slightly bent forward. Good posture, sitting or standing, balances the weight of your head and limbs on the bony framework so that the force of gravity helps keep joint position. The further you move from this position, the more energy is required of your muscles to pull against gravity to maintain your position.

Avoid energy-draining positions. It takes approximately 25% more energy to perform an activity standing than sitting down. Shoulders should not be in "shrugged" or hunched position when working with hands on table or countertop. When reading or working at a desk, if head is held forward instead of straight up, unnecessary muscle power is used to keep that position. When back is curved or bent from the waist, back muscles remain tense to prevent you from falling forward.

Incorrect work heights, sitting or standing, can cause poor body position and unnecessary energy loss. Correct work height should allow you to keep your back and neck as straight as possible sitting or standing. Correct work height, whether sitting or standing, should be approximately two inches below your elbow when your shoulders are relaxed

What can be done to change an incorrect work height? Since lowering counters, tables, and desks is not practical, use a high stool with back support, or raise the height of your chair, using wood blocks (make sure you keep feet supported with a stool or box so they do not dangle.) Raise the height of beds and low tables using wood blocks as necessary. Be sure raised furniture is stable!

Practice Suggestions:
To be aware of your body position during activities at home, work, or school, write down on a piece of paper the energy draining positions you were in, what might be causing them, and how you might correct the problem.


Plan a daily rest period, whether you feel tired or not. Just as you would fill the gas tank in your car at 1/2 or 1/4 empty rather than waiting until you run out of gas, rest gives your body time to refuel. Rest one hour or longer, lying down if possible, every afternoon. Rest, even if it may be difficult to "get going" afterwards. (Resting is better than possibly having to stop for the remainder of the day from fatigue!) Rest is like medication or therapy--it helps you perform better longer.

You can learn to balance rest and activity to save energy. Frequent, short (5-10 minutes) rest breaks taken during prolonged activity can increase the time during which you will continue to have enough energy to perform that activity and others. The United States Army has discovered by repeated tests that men can march better and hold up longer if they throw down their packs and rest at regular intervals during the length of the march.

If you persist in completing an activity that takes a half hour or longer without a short rest, you will find that it takes you much longer to recover your energy than if you rested briefly during and after the activity. Plan rest breaks approximately every 20 minutes during long periods of activity.

Proper use of rest breaks: Vacuum living room and dining room for 20 minutes. Rest for IO minutes. Vacuum bedrooms for 20 minutes. Rest for 10 minutes. You will have time and energy left for other activities.

Plan your rest breaks well. Before you start an activity, decide how long you will work and when you will take rest breaks. If resting is difficult for you, choose something restful to do during your break from the activity:

  • read a book or magazine (use book rack or other aid to maintain relaxed body position),
  • do crossword puzzles or jigsaw puzzles,
  • watch TV or listen to radio,
  • do relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, medication, or other restful activities.

How can you tell if an activity is too much for you to do? If the activity causes extreme fatigue, it is obviously too much to do at one time or you are doing it incorrectly. Any activity that takes more than 20 minutes could be too much to do at one time and should be changed.

Practice Suggestions:
Keep a daily record of how much time you spend at one time doing one or several activities. Check the time you begin and the time you stop. Include the amount of pain and/or fatigue you felt after you stopped.

On another day, plan and take one or more rest breaks (at least one break for every 20 minutes of work) and again record pain and/or fatigue. Compare the differences. Hopefully, you will have more energy on days that you rested. Increase your activity level gradually.




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