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Understanding Chronic Pain and Fatigue



  • The following are examples of chronic pain and fatigue conditions; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Musculoskeletal Conditions, Chronic Pain.
  • These conditions are often complex and affect multiple body systems.
  • The symptoms affect everybody differently and each individual’s experience of chronic pain and fatigue conditions can vary widely in severity.
  • Everyone has a different pattern of illness, with symptoms likely to fluctuate and change over time, including changing unpredictably over a day, week or longer.
  • If an individual is affected (or likely to be affected) by chronic pain and fatigue for 12 months or longer, then this can likely be defined as a disability according to the Equality Act 2010.


Everybody will experience the symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue differently. Varying symptoms can flare up at different times and symptoms can fluctuate. If someone can perform a task or activity one day they may not be able to do the same thing the next day. It is important to not make assumptions based on previous days about what someone can do today or tomorrow.

Common chronic pain and fatigue symptoms might include:

  • Severe and persistent fatigue. This type of exhaustion is long term and impacts on the person’s ability to perform and recover from daily tasks.
  • Muscle joint and / or nerve pain.
  • Twitching muscles or cramps.
  • Headaches or migraines.
  • Recurrent sore throat or swollen glands.
  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Problems sleeping including difficulty going to sleep or sleep reversal e.g. active at night and sleeping during the day.
  • Difficulty processing information, concentration and memory.
  • Problems with the nervous system, including poor temperature control and dizziness on standing or sitting up.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeats (heart palpitations).
  • Digestive problems, such as nausea, loss of appetite or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
  • Hyper-sensitivity to light, sound, odours, some foods or some medications.
  • Frustration, anxiety, low mood and depression are often experienced as a consequence of coping with the symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue.

Additional Effects

Managing and living with chronic pain and fatigue will often result in additional related burdens and this can further exacerbate energy levels and emotions.

  • Individuals may regularly experience emotions of guilt and shame, particularly in relation to job performance.
  • Regularly explaining the condition and its impact to others is something that many disabled people and those with chronic health conditions experience.
  • Those with chronic pain and fatigue may feel pressure to maintain and ‘fit in’ with professional norms by ‘masking’ or hiding the impact of their symptoms. For example, sitting at a desk all day or walking to the next meeting may be exhausting and require days of recovery.

Ensuring the required health and workplace support is in place can require additional time and effort. There can often be administrative tasks related to managing chronic pain and fatigue. For example, attending medical appointments and participating in workplace assessments (such as Access to Work or Occupational Health).