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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

The mental challenges of systemic fatigue - the Mark Cavendish Epstein-Barr example

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

In sport injuries happen. They are tough things to cope with.

Mark Cavendish has had many injuries as a professional cyclist . Those of us who have seen him race at races such as the Tour de France, can probably remember some of those dramatic crashes. Seeing images of him later with deep grazes, bruises or broken bones.

Most injuries in sport are caused by forceful impacts or when we have pushed our body too far, when something inside goes snap.

Cavendish's interview on BBC Sport got me thinking about another type of injuries or physical malfunction that athletes face - the less dramatic, more subtle type. These are injuries to the body's system. In Cavendish's case, it is the Epstein-Barr virus. Other viruses can cause problems too. The immune system itself might be malfunctioning. Or there may be a hormonal or endocrine malfunction. Within this area are ME, Mono and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

If a sportsperson has this type of injury, they are faced with a different kind of challenge.

Here's why:

  • The problem can take ages to develop 'properly' to a level that can be identified by a medical professional

  • It can take ages to get effective treatment, or the treatment that is effective is rest and that is difficult to follow

  • Your symptoms can look like a lot of other things, so the proper diagnosis can be difficult to get

  • You are a tough-minded athlete, so you will wonder if you are malingering, making it up, being lazy, losing motivation....

  • You will likely push yourself, when backing-off to rest and recover would be best

  • You aren't good at just sitting around, you miss training, you get angsty because you know that you are falling behind on training and competition plans

  • 'Progression' or improvement is difficult to see, as your symptoms change so slooooooooooooooooooowly

  • Often when you do something one day, you get a certain response (a little fatigue). You do it the next day, you get a different response (a lot of fatigue). So it is unpredictable and confusing.

  • Other people can't see that you are ill or limited (unlike if you had your arm in plaster), so sympathy and understanding is fleeting.

  • There is no clear time course for it improving (and you getting back to some decent exercise, training...)

  • You are unlikely to be confident that you will shake free from it forever (it can return)

If you would like help to manage an injury or fatigue such as Mark Cavendish's, then get in touch today.

Fatigue sleep Epstein Barr virus coping image

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