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How to Manage Arthritis Flares

Bringing Intensified Symptoms Under Control

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Updated October 18, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

An arthritis flare is an episode of increased pain, stiffness, and fatigue. The intensified arthritis symptoms can come on suddenly, disrupting your normal routine. Depending on the type of arthritis you have, flares can be brought on by overdoing activities, changing weather patterns, changes to your medications, stress -- or sometimes for no apparent reason.

To minimize the impact and help you recover from an arthritis flare as quickly as possible, consider the following advice:

Rest Your Body
It may seem like obvious advice but people who are experiencing an arthritis flare seem to fight it. Rest is necessary to recover from a flare. Painful joints must be given a break from movement and weightbearing. It's just temporary -- resting will actually allow you to get back to your usual routine sooner than if you didn't rest.

Increase Pain Medication
If you take an analgesic medication (painkiller) as part of your normal treatment regimen, a boost in the dosage may help tame an arthritis flare. Of course, you must still follow directions associated with the medication. You cannot take more than the maximum allowable dosage. A temporary boost in the medication, approved by your doctor, may deliver the relief you need.

Medrol Dosepack
A Medrol dosepack contains a corticosteroid medication (methylprednisolone) used to control inflammation associated with certain forms of arthritis. A Medrol dosepak is pre-packaged and marketed as a short-term solution -- usually 4 mg tablets given in decreasing dosages over 6 days.

Steroid Injection
A steroid injection into a joint is an option for pain that is primarily localized and persistent. A steroid injection should not be the first treatment choice when a flare occurs because there are limits regarding how often you can get an injection. Generally, most doctors recommend no more than three injections in a single joint per year.

Heating Pads or Cold Packs
Heat can be very soothing and is a readily available solution when having an arthritis flare. Heat penetrates the muscles and tissues, stimulates blood circulation, and can diminish the sensation of pain. When there is swelling around a joint, cold packs may produce more relief by decreasing inflammation.

Immobilize Affected Joints
Immobilizing a joint, by wearing a brace or a support, can relieve the burden on that joint and relieve pain. The brace or support relieves pain by providing stability, warmth, and compression.

Have Quick Meals Ready-to-Go
An arthritis flare can last one or two days, a week, or more. Unfortunately, a flare usually knocks you off of your usual pace. It is unlikely that you will feel like cooking until you get the flare to simmer down. It will help to have easy meals available. You never know when a flare will strike, so be prepared. Freeze leftovers so they are ready to go. Stock some of your favorite frozen dinners. If you have nothing on hand, call for a pizza delivery.

Treat Yourself
An unexpected arthritis flare can really bring a person with arthritis low. Despite being compliant with your medications, pacing your activities, getting regular exercise, following joint protection techniques, and keeping life on an even keel -- flares happen. Try to see through the disruption and discouragement. Be kind to yourself during the flare period. Eat a little comfort food. Put on some relaxing music. Grab that book you have been wanting to finish. Part of treating a flare is healing your spirit.

Follow Your Doctor's Advice
Because arthritis flares are somewhat inevitable, you should know what your doctor wants you to do when a flare occurs. Have a conversation with your doctor ahead of time. Flares are typically inconvenient, meaning, they can occur during the night or on the weekend when your doctor is unavailable. Know the maximum limits of your pain medication. Discuss whether you should always have a Medrol dosepack on hand or ready to be refilled. Know what your doctor wants you to do.

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