Graded Exercise Therapy Guided Self-Help Trial for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (GETSET): Protocol for a randomized controlled trial and interview study

Lucy V. Clark, Paul McCrone, Damien Ridge, Anna Cheshire, Mario Vergara-Williamson, Francesca Pesola, Peter D. White

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Background: Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), is characterized by chronic disabling fatigue and other symptoms, which are not explained by an alternative diagnosis. Previous trials have suggested that graded exercise therapy (GET) is an effective and safe treatment. GET itself is therapist-intensive with limited availability.

Objective: While guided self-help based on cognitive behavior therapy appears helpful to patients, Guided graded Exercise Self-help (GES) is yet to be tested.

Methods: This pragmatic randomized controlled trial is set within 2 specialist CFS/ME services in the South of England. Adults attending secondary care clinics with National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)-defined CFS/ME (N=218) will be randomly allocated to specialist medical care (SMC) or SMC plus GES while on a waiting list for therapist-delivered rehabilitation. GES will consist of a structured booklet describing a 6-step graded exercise program, supported by up to 4 face-to-face/telephone/Skype™ consultations with a GES-trained physiotherapist (no more than 90 minutes in total) over 8 weeks. The primary outcomes at 12-weeks after randomization will be physical function (SF-36 physical functioning subscale) and fatigue (Chalder Fatigue Questionnaire). Secondary outcomes will include healthcare costs, adverse outcomes, and self-rated global impression change scores. We will follow up all participants until 1 year after randomization. We will also undertake qualitative interviews of a sample of participants who received GES, looking at perceptions and experiences of those who improved and worsened.

Results: The project was funded in 2011 and enrolment was completed in December 2014, with follow-up completed in March 2016. Data analysis is currently underway and the first results are expected to be submitted soon.

Conclusions: This study will indicate whether adding GES to SMC will benefit patients who often spend many months waiting for rehabilitative therapy with little or no improvement being made during that time. The study will indicate whether this type of guided self-management is cost-effective and safe. If this trial shows GES to be acceptable, safe, and comparatively effective, the GES booklet could be made available on the Internet as a practitioner and therapist resource for clinics to recommend, with the caveat that patients also be supported with guidance from a trained physiotherapist. The pragmatic approach in this trial means that GES findings will be generalizable to usual National Health Service (NHS) practice.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere70
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2016


  • Fatigue
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
  • Secondary Care
  • Graded Exercise Therapy
  • Self-Help
  • Guidance

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