Even when your arthritis is well-controlled, it's still possible to have a flare-up. Arthritis symptoms will get temporarily worse after a time of being less severe. When you experience a flare-up, a joint or joints may swell or become more swollen; you may even feel more pain and stiffness, especially in the morning; then your body may feel more fatigued. When you have all these things happening at the same time, the flare-up is considered more serious. There are ways to deal with your flare-ups, here are three steps you may want to take to help yourself when you have an arthritis flare-up.
Step 1: Recognizing what is happening, when it's happening.
The first step to managing a flare is to first recognize when you are having one. If you can identify that you are having a flare-up then it becomes easier to start managing it. Being aware of your body and how it feels and learning to pay attention to how arthritis affects your body makes it easier to see if there are any changes, then you will be able to recognize it. When you realize there has been a change, admit it, don't go into denial and hope that everything will just get better on its own. It doesn't.
Step 2: Find the reason for the flare-up
Once you've recognized that you are having a flare-up, the next thing and the important thing is to find out why it happened. In most cases flare-ups have no cause and are just part of the natural cycle of arthritis, but sometimes they do have triggers. Managing the symptoms of the flare-up may be controlled by what you think the cause is. By recognizing what stresses there are in your life, you may be able to change them and then you'll be able to lessen the severity of the flare-ups or at best prevent future ones from happening. This information can be very helpful for you and your doctor.
There are other possible triggers for your flare-ups, those being, not taking you medications the way your doctor prescribed, overdoing activities and not getting enough rest, over using certain joints, or experiencing a general worsening of your conditions. Some people think that the weather can trigger their flare-ups. Here are some of those triggers.
Medicine: A flare-up can occur when you are not taking your medicine the way your doctor has prescribed. Some people are afraid of the side effects and try to reduce the amount they are taking or they will even stop taking the medicine all together, even when they are still experiencing symptoms. There are others who will start to feel better and will either stop taking their medicine or forget to take it. Either way not taking your medicines will have serious affects, such as increasing the risk of permanent damage to the joints.
Overdoing it: Overdoing some of your activities and becoming too fatigue, can also bring on a flare-up. On the days that I was feeling really good, I would try to cram everything I could into those few hours I knew I had before I would start to hurt and be totally exhausted. I would always end up paying for it for the next few days. That's why it's important to have a clear idea of what is too much for your body to handle. While exercise and activity are very important, it is also important to balance them with rest and avoiding tiredness as much as possible is a key part of your arthritis treatment. It took me nearly five years before I was able to figure out how to pace myself whenever I did an activity. I also have to pick and choose what I will do based on how long I am going to be down after I do it.
Over using your joints: When you overuse one of your joints, you can cause your arthritis to flare-up. And believe it or not there are many ways to overuse a joint or joints. If you have arthritis of the hands, doing an activity that is too hard on your hands, such as hammering, opening up a jar, or even washing all your homes windows in one day, can trigger a flare-up in the hands. If you have arthritis in your knees, you might have flare-ups if you are on your knees for any length of time. In both of these cases, the swelling may occur any time from soon after the activity to a few days later. When there is swelling in a joint, you will want to look back to see what it was you were doing before the swelling started.
Other triggers: As mentioned earlier in this article, stress can contribute to flare-ups; in addition, some people find that certain weather conditions, such as humidity, can cause increased joint pain. The weather itself isn't what causes the joint pain to be worse but it can make the joint discomfort more obvious. Finally, a flare-up could be a sign that your condition is getting worse. If you have a flare-up that just won't go away, contact your doctor and see if there is a more effective treatment he can put you on.
Step 3: Fighting the flare-up.
The third and final step to managing your flare-ups is the action you take to relieve the pain and inflammation. The following are known to be effective. Do a medicine check. If you haven't been taking your medicine as prescribed, it might be a good idea to get back on track. If you stopped taking your medicine because you think it is causing unwanted side effects, contact your doctor and he should be able to make changes in your medicine. If you are having trouble paying for your medication, your doctor should be able to help you find another way to pay for them or prescribe a less expensive medication. With the growing numbers of people unable to pay for their medications, many of the drug companies have programs that will greatly reduce the cost and if you qualify, you may be able to get them for free. Whatever your reasons were for stopping, it's best to not let it continue for too much longer. Getting back on a regular schedule with your medications will cause the arthritis to respond once again and calm down. Check in with your doctor. You should have already worked out with your doctor, what is the best way to stay in touch in case you should have a flare-up. Some doctors, especially if you are newly diagnosed, prefer that you come in to see them, while others prefer you use emails or the phone. To treat your flare-ups the doctor may change the dose of your medicine, give you a new medicine or advise you on different techniques to reduce your symptoms. You and your doctor can also work out a plan for changing or adding medicines or making other changes to your program that you can do at home before checking in with your doctor. I talk to my doctors all the time and I was given the go ahead to take more than two Tramadol if I need to when my pain is over the top.
Using cold or warmth: If you have one or two joints flare-up, putting ice packs or running cool water over them a few times a day can help reduce the pain and swelling. There are some people who can't tolerate the cold and prefer warm moisture instead. Hot packs, heating pads, paraffin wax baths, warm tub baths, showers, or warm-water pools can all help the joints to feel better. I have used the hot wax baths and I feel that this has helped in keeping my finger joints from becoming twisted and enlarged. My pain and swelling seem to get worse no matter whether I use hot or cold treatments.
Resting your body: During a flare-up, getting plenty of rest will help the medicines you are taking do their job. Doctors usually recommend a good night's sleep, at least eight hours, and additional rest in the afternoon, if possible. During the past 12 years of having arthritis, I hardly ever got eight hours of sleep and on those nights when I didn't sleep or my sleep was intermittent my pain levels are out of this world. My doctor prescribed medication to help keep me asleep and now I hardly ever have pain. Alternating rest and work is another good plan, as long as you stop working before you get too tired. You might want to think of a flare-up as a good time to just be good to yourself and do nothing until you are sure your flare-up has passed.
Resting your joints: Always be careful to not overuse a swollen joint, avoiding aggressive or repetitive activities. This would include some exercises. It would be best to suspend any strenuous exercise routines during an arthritis flare-up. When the swelling has subsided you could continue your exercise program and normal activities.
Doing range-of-motion exercises: Although, you should sustain from strenuous exercise during a flare-up, you should do light range-of-motion exercises. When you do range-of-motion exercises you are putting your joints through its normal range of motion, without stretching or forcing it. You should not force swollen joints to bend too much and you should stop when you experience a lot of pain. You need to make sure the joint stays as flexible as possible during a flare-up because this will help to preserve the joints range of motion and prevent long-term stiffness.
Pacing yourself: Be sure to take your time when you do activities during a flare-up, conserve your energy. Do a little bit each day instead of trying to do everything in one day and then not be able to anything the next. The temptation to do everything in one day, when you are feeling good, is very hard to not do, but the rewards are less pain and stiffness. That's why taking your time doing activities is so important. I still haven't mastered this. It seems that when I am having a flare-up everything I need to get done piles up and then I try to play catch-up when I do feel good. But I can't stress this enough, take your time. You might want to consider getting a joint injection. During a flare-up, if you have one or more joints are very painful and swollen, you may be able to get an injection from your doctor. You may be a candidate for a cortisone injection in the joint, which can reduce the swelling and relieve the pain you are experiencing. Your doctor will determine if you would benefit from a joint injection and will give it to you in his/her office. After your injection, the doctor may want to reevaluate your medications and make changes as needed. I have had these injections across my shoulders and it's been a year since my last shot. I no longer have the pain and stiffness in my back and neck area.
Ask for help when you need it. It may be time to ask for help when you are having a flare-up and you are unable to do a project or just need help with your everyday chores. These tasks can be overwhelming and very possibly harmful to your swollen joints. I know that asking for help can be a very hard but you should consider the damage to your swollen joints if you attempt to do these things when you are having a flare-up. I am the worst when it comes to asking for help. I always thought that it was an admission that I was giving up. It wasn't, it was a smart thing to do because it allowed me to preserve my joints and my energy. Avoid doing a "worst case scenario." Try to stay calm and not worry when you are having a flare-up. Just because your joints are swollen again, doesn't mean your flare-up is going to be a permanent change. More than likely it probably will be short-lived, please avoid the "worse-case" scenario, because negative thinking will cause more stress which then will cause your flare-ups to be more painful. All you can do at this point is to remind yourself that you are doing all you can do to improve the effects of your life with arthritis.
Manage your stress: Stress can be a major reason for your arthritis flare-ups and managing the things that cause you stress can only help with your pain levels. I know that it isn't easy to eliminate your stress but even if you can reduce just a small portion of them, it will have an impact. There is one way to start and that is to try changing how you think about the stress in your life. You may become stressed at the signs of an arthritis flare-up, which can actually make it worse. But if you remember that arthritis does have ups and downs, you can have an impact on the flare-up. Your confidence in yourself and your doctor's ability to manage your flare-ups will increase and as it does, your flare-ups will decrease.
Yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation can also help to combat stress and are more effective if you practice them on a regular basis.
Using assistant devices: You might want to consider using assistant devices to avoid causing a swollen joint more pain and discomfort. This can make it easier to do any painful chores or other activities. There is a very wide range of assistant devices that can make it easier to hold a pencil, or even do the reaching for you to get something off of a high shelf, to simple canes and crutches. You might need these devices all the time but it is nice to have them around just in case you need then during a flare-up.
If you work, a flare-up can affect your ability to do your job. When you have a flare-up that is making it difficult for you to do your job and it doesn't seem to be settling down in a few days, get to your doctor early and discuss your work issues. You may find it helpful to take a few days of vacation until your flare-up has subsided and this will allow you to get the rest you need to heal. If you haven't told your employer about your arthritis, now may be a good time to do so. Simply explain that you have your arthritis under control but that on occasion you will have a flare-up that may require you to take a few days off to get through it. Doing this will put you into the position to request some small accommodations. But also remember that your employer, no matter how understanding they are, expect you to do the job you were hired for and to be at work.
Be sure to communicate to your doctor and his staff exactly what is going on and how worried you are so that you get an appointment as soon as possible. When you receive good treatment, the flare-up may be short-lived, and your arthritis will remain under control. When this happens you will then be able to return to your job and to your regular activities and hobbies.