What is an RA flare?
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA for short, causes symptoms such as joint pain and inflammation. RA symptoms are usually controlled with medication, however, it is always possible to have flare-ups or flares of the condition. An RA flare is when symptoms get temporarily worse; during a flare, you may feel more pain and stiffness in the affected joints, as well as swelling of the joints. The duration and frequency of RA flares varies from person to person.
There are some things you can do to make flares less painful and disruptive to your life, below we present a comprehensive guide of 17 tips to manage RA flares:
Some studies have shown that certain oils, such as fish oil supplements and some plant oils, help reduce pain and stiffness. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking any additional oil supplements because they can iinterfere with your medications. You should also be aware of the side effects of certain oils, which can cause nausea, belching, gas, or liver damage.
Creams, Gels, and Lotions
Creams, gels, and lotions that contain capsaicin, salicylates, camphor, menthol, or turpentine oil can be applied directly on the skin near the affected joints and provide temporary relief of joint pain.
A cortisone injection can reduce swelling, relieve pain, and allow for a normal range of motion. Consult with your doctor about whether getting a cortisone injection is a good option for you.
Do a Medicine Check
Be honest with yourself: Have you been taking your meds as prescribed? If you haven’t or you are not sure if you have, it’s time to get back on track. Set reminders on your phone or wall calendar to take your medications at the scheduled time so you don’t forget. If you’ve stopped taking your medications because they are causing undesirable side effects, bring this up with your doctor so they can recommend a course of action that suits your needs.
Use Cold or Warmth
To numb pain, reduce swelling and relax muscle spasm, apply ice packs over the joints or run cool water on them a few times a day.
If you feel tight, aching muscles or stiff joints use hot packs, heating pads, warm baths or showers, or paraffin wax baths to soothe your muscles and joints.
Ask your doctor for guidance using heat and cold.
Resting is very important during an RA flare. Make sure you are getting a good night’s sleep for ideally 8 hours, and try taking a nap in the afternoon, if possible. This is not the time to work extremely hard. Keep a good balance between rest and work.
Relaxing methods such as guided imagery, meditation, hypnosis, massages, deep breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation can help you get the rest you need if you are feeling overly stressed.
Do not overtire yourself or overuse the affected joints. Save your energy and take your time doing activities. Doing a little every day is preferable than doing a lot in one day and resting the next.
Rest the Joint
Do not overuse the affected joint(s). Avoid aggressive or repetitive activities that might put strain on your joints.
Gentle exercise is a great way to keep your joints from getting stiff and to fight fatigue. Avoid high-impact sports and try gentle stretching, walking, swimming, water aerobics or Tai chi. You can also consult with your doctor and ask them to recommend exercises for your particular condition.
Do Range-of-Motion Exercises
Range of motion exercises simply means moving a joint through its normal range of motion, without stretching it or forcing it. This will help to make sure the joint stays flexible and prevent long-term stiffness. Be careful not to let a swollen joint bend too much or stretch past its range of motion.
Manage and Avoid Stress
Stress can be one of the causes of your RA flares, which is why it is so important to minimize it. One way to minimize stress in your life is by changing the way your think about your RA flares; avoid thinking about “worst-case scenarios” and start thinking that your RA has its ups and downs and that the flares are just a temporary situation. Remember to never get frustrated with yourself and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can to improve your situation.
Ask for Help
RA flares can be both physically and mentally exhausting. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help with projects or everyday tasks that seem overwhelming or can cause harm to your joints.
Have a Contingency Plan
At work, discuss your condition with supervisors and co-workers ahead of time and arrange for coverage during RA flares. Assure your supervisors that you are committed to work from home or make up the hours you miss in order for you to be able to rest when your RA flares up.
At home, plan for your family members to help out with tasks that you normally perform and make sure they all understand you will be needing more rest than normal.
Use Assistive Devices
To avoid causing a swollen joint more pain and discomfort, use assistive devices that make it easier to do painful chores or activities.
A hand specialist can help guide you through what the best way to deal with your RA is for you. Make an appointment with our physicians today!