Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), has a significant impact upon daily functioning. Most recommended treatments aim to alter activity patterns based upon assumptions of activity avoidance. However, as there is limited research on the experience of activity and occupational beliefs in people with CFS/ME, this study took a qualitative approach to understand the meaning of activity in people with this disabling condition.


This study applied a social constructivist grounded theory methodology. Semi-structured interviews took place with 14 participants attending a Specialist CFS/ME Service in England.


The emergent themes described a premorbid state of constant action with difficulty stopping an activity once it had commenced. When this pattern was interrupted by illness, participants attempted to maintain their previous level of occupational engagement. Negative associations and emotions were described in response to the concept of doing nothing or limited activity. A recurring cycle was reported of increasing activity levels when symptoms improved, followed by post exertional symptoms.


Consequently, participants’ beliefs about concepts of both activity and inactivity need to be considered within the application of rehabilitation programmes for CFS/ME that aim to modify activity related behaviours.

Implications for Rehabilitation: Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is commonly treated in the UK using activity modification.

In this small qualitative study, patients expressed negative feelings and beliefs towards the concept of doing nothing and therefore sought to push their activity levels when this was available, leading to recurring cycles of symptoms and activity. Rehabilitation programmes need to consider how people with CFS/ME engaged with activity and inactivity before the condition and how this may impact upon engagement with activity-based rehabilitation programmes.

Experiences of daily activity in chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and their implications for rehabilitation programmes, by Sue Pemberton and Diane L. Cox in Disability and Rehabilitation, 27 December 2013 [Epub ahead of print]

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