Arthritis is a common disorder. 1 million new cases of osteoarthritis occur in the United States each year. Rheumatoid arthritis follows a similar trend.
Osteoarthritis is caused by general wear and tear of joints and ligaments. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which can be very uncomfortable.
Nonetheless, both cause discomfort. With swelling to the joints being a prevalent issue. As well as issues relating to nerve pain and movement restriction.
If you have a diagnosis of arthritis, then you may experience flares from time to time. These occur when the daily discomfort goes from a 2 on the pain scale to a 12. These can last for days, weeks, or months. While also leaving you exhausted, grumpy, and in a lot of discomfort.
Luckily, there are some things that you can do to minimize the symptoms of an arthritis flare.
- Don’t stop, but slow it down.
It can be ever so tempting when you are having a flare of your arthritis to stop everything. Going out, seeing friends, or even socializing in your home. In short, it is best not to stop these activities.
Isolating due to arthritis can increase feelings of loneliness. Which can cause stress that can make the flare worse. It is important not to run a marathon during a flare, but don’t stop exercising altogether. Use aids, such as wraps and braces to help you cope. Do yoga in your home if you are able. Or go for a gentle swim in your local pool. This is a great way to exercise without putting any pressure on your joints.
Try not to do any new activities during a flare. As this can cause damage to the joints or muscles. Just do what you usually do at a slower pace.
- Don’t forget to rest.
This may sound like a mixed message when compared to the last tip. However, it is important to get the balance right when you are experiencing an arthritis flare. You should not exercise to the point of injury or discomfort. Nor should you rest until you cannot move.
A flare is likely to cause extreme feelings of fatigue. So, rest during the day. Of course, aim to get your usual amount of sleep at night too. If this is difficult because of discomfort, talk to your doctor.
If the pain is extreme on one day, it can be worth relaxing in a comfortable chair, and get back to exercise when you can. Don’t lift anything heavy. Especially if you have arthritis in your wrists or back. Aim to complete as many of your daily chores as you can but don’t hurt yourself.
As irritating as living with arthritis can be, a flare can be even worse. If you have experienced one in the past, you will know how it affected you. So, it is best to use this to plan and prepare for the next flare.
This can be done with help from your rheumatologist and doctor. Medically, this may involve temporarily increasing medications, like steroids. Or the prescription of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
At home, you can prepare too. If you work, talk to your boss about workplace adaptations. If your arthritis occurs in set joints, purchase braces to help. A wrap-based wrist support can do wonders if you have limited movement in your hands during a flare. It can also be worth purchasing orthopedic pillows and mattress toppers too.
- Hot and cold compresses
You may have noticed that your arthritis responds positively to heat packs. Or ice packs.
During a flare, you will likely benefit from applying one to the most painful areas. Hot water bottles can help here. As can ice packs used by long-distance runners.
Heat calms the pain by increasing the blood flow to the area. It also relaxes the muscles which may have tensed up. Cold packs reduce inflammation. Cold also helps to reduce nerve transmission. Thus, reducing soreness and aches.
Aim to apply either hot or cold packs for no longer than 15 minutes, and apply them 2-4 times a day as needed.
- Look after your mental health
Pain can have a huge impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Especially if it is ongoing. Therefore, it is important to look after your mental health when you have arthritis.
This can be as simple as inviting a friend to your home for a chat. Or going out for a cup of coffee to destress. It may also be worth joining a support group for people with arthritis. Which may hold meetings. Or may be available online.
If you are struggling with feelings of depression, please seek out help. Ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist who specializes in pain management. Alternatively, you can seek one out yourself using online search engines.
- Ask for help
If you need help during an arthritic flare, this is nothing to be ashamed of, but it can be the hardest thing for many sufferers to do.
Be aware that your family and friends only want to help you; and so, they will be more than happy to pick up shopping. Or to clean your home and cook meals for you.
Let them know how the pain is affecting you. As well as the most pressing chores. Then work together to devise a plan for when you have a flare.