Flare-Ups and How to Cope
Last updated: September 2022
Flare-ups are not only common but can be a real pain in the butt. Whether it hits me when I first wake up or later in the day, the swelling I often experience in my joints can be painful—sometimes even debilitating.
Learning how to live with an inflammatory condition has been challenging. However, I've found that there are simple ways to cope with the occasional flare-ups. But, before I could do that, I needed to become better able to identify the symptoms.
The symptoms of a flare-up can be tough to pin down
After all, just about anything can feel like a symptom when our body seems to be attacking itself. However, there are some common signs that a flare-up might be occurring. These include pain and stiffness in the spine or joints, fatigue, and weight loss. So when I start noticing some (or all) of these symptoms, I know it's essential I do not ignore them. Instead, there are specific actions I like to take to help alleviate the pain.
What I do when I'm experiencing a flare-up
1. Prioritize rest and recovery
The first thing I like to do is rest, which doesn't mean I stay in bed all day. However, what I do want to do is avoid any strenuous activity. Therefore my morning runs and any heavy lifting is temporarily put on hold. Conversely, I prioritize doing more therapeutic activities like yoga and meditation. By doing this, I can give my body the rest and recovery it needs.
2. Make time for ice therapy
A therapeutic strategy that I have used is ice therapy to help reduce inflammation and pain. Having run cross country and track in college, I've learned the benefits of using ice in pain management. For example, when I'm experiencing a severe flare-up, I will apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the affected area for about 20 minutes daily. Doing this helps me reduce the pain and swelling and recover faster.
3. Talk to my doctor
While flare-ups do not always require a doctor's visit, they sometimes do. Having experienced a few flare-ups over the years, I've become much less hesitant to reach out to my doctor for additional support. With the advancement of technology, sometimes those visits occur in-person and other times virtually. Either way, I've managed my condition better with proper treatment and controlled my flare-ups.
What I've done to prevent flare-ups
Even though knowing what to do when I experience a flare-up is vital, it's equally important to know what to do to avoid one entirely. While this is far from an exhaustive list, three things have helped me prevent those pesky flare-ups:
1. Making exercise a priority
First, let's start with exercise. There are many benefits of staying active, but sometimes the last thing I want to do is move when my body hurts. However, exercise is essential for keeping my joints healthy and preventing stiffness. Even moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming, can make a big difference. When I don't have time to do a traditional workout, taking my dog on an afternoon stroll or doing some gentle stretching is sometimes all I need.
2. Being mindful about food choices
Next, let's talk about being mindful of food choices. Eating a balanced diet is crucial for good joint health. That entails including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats when planning my weekly meals. However, it's equally important to stay hydrated. Water is a great way to keep joints lubricated and prevent inflammation. Thus, being a more mindful eater has helped me reduce flare-ups and support my overall well-being.
3. Practice better stress management
Finally, let's talk about stress management. Stress can worsen the pain, so it's essential to find ways to relax and de-stress. Deep breathing, tapping, or journaling are great ways to reduce stress. In addition, every few months, I schedule massage therapy to help relieve tension and lower my stress levels. No matter what I choose, finding time for myself every day to relax and de-stress is non-negotiable.
Although flare-ups can be incredibly frustrating and debilitating, there are plenty of things to do to help ease the symptoms. Additionally, there are steps to take to help prevent flare-ups from happening in the first place. Thus, coping with flare-ups can be much less daunting.
What strategies have been most helpful for you when managing your flare-ups? Let me know in the comments below!
Has changing your diet helped manage your pain and flares?