Tips for Managing an Arthritis Flare

Use these tips to manage arthritis flares when they arise.

1. Tips for Managing an Arthritis Flare
When your arthritis symptoms suddenly crank up to 11 out of 10, you know that you are experiencing a flare. This unexpected increase in your disease can last days or weeks even. Your symptoms are amplified and you’re left exhausted from the effort of lifting your head off the pillow in the morning. But with proper planning and care, you can manage these symptoms.
2. Plan ahead with your rheumatologist.
Your rheumatologist is your primary partner in your arthritis treatment. Together, you set out a plan to keep your disease in check and your symptoms at bay. But when a flare strikes, your prescribed treatments may not be enough. Talk to your doctor 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.
3. Plan ahead at home, too.
Unfortunately, flares have no consideration for your obligations at home or at work. They can strike any time, so it is equally important to have a plan in place at home. Have a few sick days saved up in case you need to use them. Or see if you can make adjustments to your schedule to work reduced or alternate hours. You can do the same at home. Make sure family members know which responsibilities to take over so you can have a break.
4. Watch the signs
Flares can sometimes be “predictable”. For example, you overdo it one day and end up with swollen, stiff joints the next day. Other times, they seem to attack without warning as inflammation builds. Pay attention to early warning signs, such as a dull ache in your hands or daytime sleepiness that lasts for days. A key part of managing the flare is tackling it as early as possible.
5. Guard against infection
Having an autoimmune disease, and treating the condition with some disease-modifying drugs, weakens your defenses against viruses and bacteria. So, you’re more likely to get an infection, which can trigger an arthritis flare. Get up to date on your vaccines. But don’t forget to wash your hands frequently and avoid close contact with or sharing food and drinks with people who are sick.
6. Give it a rest.
Ask anyone with arthritis and they’ll tell you: The best thing you can do for your arthritis is to keep moving. However, when you are experiencing a flare, sometimes the best thing you can do for your arthritis is rest and allow your body to recharge. Finding balance between activity and rest is especially important during a flare.
7. Care for your emotions
It’s normal to be hyper-focused on your body when you have a flare. But it’s important to care for your emotional health too. Allowing anxiety and stress to build can worsen inflammation and lead to depression, which is also linked to inflammation. Find outlets for ongoing stress relief and get professional help when your emotions get too overwhelming to manage on your own.
8. Slow down; don’t stop.
Giving yourself a break with rest does not mean stop moving. You don’t want your joints becoming stiff. Move them through the fullest range of motion you can manage. You can do something as simple as slowly raising and lowering your legs while seated comfortably. Just be sure to pace yourself and don't overdo it. If something causes you more pain, stop immediately.
9. Apply the heat… and the chill.
Hot and cold compresses can help ease the pain of an arthritis flare. Heat soothes joint pain by increasing blood flow to the painful area and relaxing the muscles. Cold eases inflammation by constricting the blood vessels. It lessens pain because cold sensations travel along large nerve fibers and helps to disrupt pain sensations. Both treatments should be done for no more than 15 minutes at a time, two to four times a day.
10. Exercise your mind.
Meditation and visualization techniques can help you ease your mind and your body. When you practice these relaxation or mind-diversion methods, they may not directly reduce your pain, but they can minimize stress, which will indirectly relieve your pain. These techniques work best when you do them on a regular basis, so try incorporating them into your weekly exercise regimen.
11. Ask for help.
One of the best ways to get help is to ask for it. But sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do. Just know that your friends and family want to help. Before a flare strikes, let your loved ones know how a flare may affect you and give them ways they can help. Other sources of help may include your church or an arthritis Connect Group. Find upcoming events here.
12. Practice good sleep hygiene
Studies show that poor sleep habits not only can worsen pain but can also increase inflammation. Whether you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or struggle with chronic daytime sleepiness, some simple tips can help. Sleep on a regular schedule, avoid caffeine before bedtime, sleep in a cool, dark room and turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bed.

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