15 Survival Tips for Managing an RA Flare-Up

Unfortunately, even the most well controlled case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause occasional flare-ups, in which pain and inflammation strike without warning and disrupt your life.

See Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis causes symptoms throughout your body, which is especially true during a flare-up. Watch: Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview Video

When a flare-up hits and you’re in a lot of pain or feeling completely drained, it can seem trite to hear about self-care “tips.” But these coping tactics may help you deal with a flare-up in a way you haven’t considered before.

See Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Treatment

Through trial and error, you can find the self-care steps that work best for you. They may even vary from flare to flare, depending on which symptoms the flare-up is causing.

For inflamed, achy joints

  1. Take over-the-counter medication to manage pain and inflammation, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil). Talk with your doctor about short-term use of prednisone to help during flares too.
  2. See Pain Medications for Arthritis Pain Relief

  3. Use heat therapy. You can use dry heat, like a heating pad or heat patch, or wet heat like a warm bath. (See: 9 Easy Ways to Apply Heat to an Arthritic Joint)
  4. Try cold therapy as well to decrease inflammation.
  5. See 3 Types of Cold Packs for Arthritis)

  6. Wrap the affected joint for added support and immobility.
  7. Do gentle stretches to keep stiff joints moving. As the flare eases, you can increase your range of motion as it's comfortable.

For fatigue

  1. Get some rest—but not too much. It can be helpful to take it easy when a flare hits, but too much rest can be problematic too. Balance rest with light activity and stretching.
  2. Talk with your employer about having flexible hours or the ability to work from home when a flare is at its worst. It's a good idea to make this arrangement ahead of time, when you can explain the effects of a flare and assure your employer of your commitment to still get work done, as you're able.
  3. Delegate household tasks or errands to family and friends. Be specific; tell them exactly how they can assist you.
  4. Minimize effort. Use a rolling cart or a TV tray to keep frequently-needed items like the remote and tissues handy. Sit down to brush your teeth or do your hair. Wear clothing that’s comfortable and easy to get on and off.

    See Coping with RA Fatigue by Prioritizing and Simplifying Tasks

  5. Have frozen meals on hand that can easily be prepared for you or your family. Or order out.

When you're exhausted and in pain, make every ounce of energy count by simplifying and prioritizing actions. Learn more: Coping with RA Fatigue by Prioritizing and Simplifying Tasks

For stress or anxiety

  1. When you feel a flare-up coming on, try to resist negative thoughts about the flare-up itself or what others think about it. Remind yourself that RA has its ups and downs and flare-ups sometimes happen.
  2. See Coping with RA Fatigue Using Therapy and Emotional Support

  3. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation.
  4. Unplug for the day. Nap, watch Netflix, or read.
  5. Put off big decisions about family, work, or finances until you feel more capable and less stressed.
  6. Put on some soothing music and take a warm bath. This can help relieve stress and ease joint pain too.

If the symptoms of your flare-up are unusual or severe—or they’re not responding to your self-care treatments—make an appointment to see your rheumatologist. Your overall treatment plan may need adjusting.

You can also help prevent and anticipate flare-ups by tracking your health and RA symptoms. This will help you see patterns in when your flare-ups occur. Use a notebook or smartphone app to help you track your symptoms.

See 3 Free Apps for Tracking Life with Arthritis

Learn more:

How Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Causes Fatigue

11 Ways to Relieve Pain Naturally