Aquatic therapy as treatment intervention for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: a pilot study

Published 28 September 2016

People diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are being encouraged to take the plunge and join a new pilot study at Southern Cross University investigating the benefits of aquatic therapy as part of their treatment.

“We are researching a novel approach to the management for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” said lead researcher Dr Suzanne Broadbent from the University’s School of Health and Human Sciences.

“Aquatic exercise and hydrotherapy are recommended types of physical activity for people with Fibromyalgia and muscle pain. However this type of exercise has not been investigated with people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.”

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is a debilitating condition where patients suffer from severe fatigue and malaise, especially after exertion; patients may also show other intermittent symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes, recurring infections, sleep disorders and headaches.

Fibromyalgia patients can benefit from aquatic exercise, and up to 75 per cent of people with CFS/ME also have Fibromyalgia.

“This project will investigate the effects of a single session of supervised, gentle aquatic exercise on fatigue, tiredness and other CFS symptoms. We will then investigate the effects of two supervised sessions of gentle, self-paced aquatic exercise for four-weeks on fatigue and tiredness scores, exercise capacity and wellness,” Dr Broadbent said.

The exercise sessions, being held in the pool at the University’s Lismore campus, may be as short as 15 minutes, depending on each individual’s symptoms. The program is not strenuous exercise and the study aims to reduce fatigue, muscle/joint pain and tiredness, and to improve blood pressure, heart rate, strength, flexibility, wellness and the capacity to be active.

“CFS/ME patients tend to be sedentary because they are limited by their symptoms but they may also be prone to lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes if they remain inactive. The challenge for health professionals is to find a balance with gentle physical activity and avoiding symptom onset,” said Dr Broadbent.

This pilot study will provide valuable information about the effectiveness of aquatic therapy for symptoms of CFS/ME, which will contribute significantly to evidence-based practice.

To participate in the project, clients need to be aged between 18 and 65 years with a current diagnosis by a doctor of one of the following:

• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
• Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
• Post Viral Syndrome (PVS), Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS) or Post Infectious Fatigue Syndrome (PIFS)
• Chronic Mononucleosis

To participate in the study, contact:

Dr Suzanne Broadbent or 02 6620 3394
Dr Rosalind Beavers or 02 6620 3499

The research has obtained approval by the Human Research Ethics Committee of Southern Cross University (approval number: ECN-16-12).

Photo: Dr Suzanne Broadbent from the School of Health and Human Sciences.

Media contact: Sharlene King media officer, Southern Cross University, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.