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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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)
- Try cold therapy as well to decrease inflammation.
- Wrap the affected joint for added support and immobility.
- Do gentle stretches to keep stiff joints moving. As the flare eases, you can increase your range of motion as it's comfortable.
- 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.
- 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.
- Delegate household tasks or errands to family and friends. Be specific; tell them exactly how they can assist you.
- 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.
- Have frozen meals on hand that can easily be prepared for you or your family. Or order out.
For stress or anxiety
- 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.
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Unplug for the day. Nap, watch Netflix, or read.
- Put off big decisions about family, work, or finances until you feel more capable and less stressed.
- 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.