Pain alarm: learning how to manage sudden pain flare-ups (in arthritis pain)

It’s 9:30 am on a Monday morning. And you’re late. The alarm didn’t go off and you have an important client meeting at the office at 10:00 am. So you rush out of the house, get into the car and speed on to the highway – and then you suddenly have to stop. You see the one thing you didn’t want to see. The one thing you were almost praying you wouldn’t bump into – you guessed it, it’s a red signal at the junction! You hit the brakes and force your car to come to a gentle halt.

A pain flare is exactly like that red traffic light. Those living with chronic pain experience a flare when there is a sudden increase in their pain, at the same spot where they usually experience chronic pain. And it can be frustrating because it forces you to slow down and stop for a while.

But just like a red traffic light eventually turns green, a pain flare also lasts for a limited time and then subsides.

So here are a few things you can do to make your pain flare a little easier to bear.

1. Understand what causes your pain to flare-up. Now this is important because it will be different for you as compared to someone else. Some people experience pain flares when they get worried or stressed-out or anxious. With others, sudden movement such as a fit of coughing or getting up from a chair suddenly could trigger the pain. Maybe changing your treatment or reaching the end of your dosage could also cause a pain flare.

2. Soothe the pain. Put some ice in a thin towel and apply it to the site that is hurting. Or you can even use a bag of frozen peas. With others, a warm bath helps. Try gently massaging the affected area as this can help ease pain flares.

3. Relax. Learning to relax is one of the best things you can do when you have a pain flare. Breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly. Simple exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs can help relax your muscles and make you feel calm. Play some light relaxing music in the background. Meditation and yoga are also stress reducing activities that can help you relax.

4. Take the right medicine. Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe medicines that you can have in the middle of a pain flare. Make sure you always keep this with you, just in case of an emergency. But you shouldn’t have more than what has been prescribed and speak to your doctor if you think the medicine is not effective.

5. Stay positive. It’s easy to be very hard on yourself during a pain flare and keep thinking of all the things you cannot do. But that doesn’t help you at all. In fact, studies show that what you think can affect your perception of your pain. So turn those negative thoughts into positive ones. Remember, your pain flare is like the red light of the traffic signal – just wait a little longer and it will turn green.