An arthritis flare is an episode of increased pain, fatigue, joint stiffness, swelling and tenderness. These symptoms may lead to a loss of functioning and interfere with people’s mood, sleep quality, and ability to perform everyday activities. Depending on the type of arthritis you have, flares can be triggered by a variety of things such as overexertion, infection, stress, poor sleep, medication changes or for no apparent reason.
To minimise the impact and help you recover from an arthritis flare as quickly as possible, consider the following tips.
Plan ahead to make things easier for yourself when an unexpected flare occurs. At work, try to arrange for days off, change your daily work schedule, work fewer hours per week or work from home. Make a plan with supervisors and co-workers ahead of time so you can transition smoothly when a flare occurs. At home, let family members know which responsibilities will be shifted to them in order to keep things running smoothly, have ready-cooked meals in the freezer, get a cleaner/gardener for the short term or let things slide until you are feeling better. Also ask friends for help, sometimes you just need to ask!
Rest & Sleep
It may seem like obvious advice, but some people who are experiencing an arthritis flare may fight it or try to ‘push through’ – which may leave them feeling worse. Rest is necessary to recover from a flare and may actually allow you to get back to your usual routine sooner than if you didn’t rest. Alternate small amounts of activity with rest and give yourself plenty of breaks. Also try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. It can be easier said than done, but having good sleep habits can help.
See below for our resources on Managing Fatigue and Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep.
Hot & Cold Therapies
Hot & Cold therapies can help with the pain of an arthritis flare. Heat can be very soothing and is a easily accessible solution when having an arthritis flare. Heat penetrates the muscles and tissues, stimulates blood circulation, and can diminish the sensation of pain. When there is swelling around a joint, cold packs may produce more relief by decreasing inflammation.
For more info on using hot and cold therapies, see our resources below.
Painful joints should be given a break from movement and weight bearing. During acute periods of flare-ups no activity is recommended – purely rest. Once that starts to resolve, work towards a suitable amount of light exercise – it’s about finding the balance and that is often determined through trial and error, listening to your body and potentially seeking guidance from an allied health professional.
Consider using assistive devices to ease the burden on swollen and tender joints, help you remain mobile and stabilise joints. These include splints, braces, customised shoes/shoe inserts as well as canes and crutches that can take weight off joints and make it easier for you to walk.
Special household tools can make working with your hands easier. For example, grab bars and handrails in bathrooms and on stairs can help you navigate your home safely as well as kitchen devices. You may want to visit a physiotherapist or occupational therapist for help in this area.
When a flare strikes, your prescribed treatments may not be enough. Talk to your GP or rheumatologist about a plan of action should a flare occur, such as making adjustments to your medications temporarily or adding an additional medication to treat the acute symptoms.
Reducing stress is essential for not only preventing flares but may help to shorten their length and reduce symptoms. You could try meditation, breathing techniques, yoga or tai chi, or doing your favourite activities as a form of distraction from your pain.
See below for our resource on Managing Chronic Pain.
Keep a Journal
It can be beneficial to keep a journal to ascertain potential flare triggers and symptoms to try to identify when and why the flares occur. Write down your activity, sleep patterns, medication changes, diet and any illnesses to see if you can identify a pattern. If you ascertain a trigger, it may help avoid a flare in the future.
Be Kind to yourself
Most importantly be kind to yourself and be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Ask for help from your doctor, family, friends and workplace and don’t make your experience during a flare harder than it needs to be. For further resources, see the links below.
Information provided is of a general educational nature only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. Consult your health care professional about the treatment that is best for your particular case.
Arthritis NSW Resources
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Sources and Further Reading
- Arthritis Foundation: Flares
- Medical News Today: Tips for Dealing with RA Flare-ups
- Healthline: Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare-Ups
- Very Well Health: How to Manage Arthritis Flares
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