Managing flare-ups of pain

People with long term pain often have times when their pain increases significantly and they are able to do less. These are often called flare-ups and usually last for a few hours to a few days. Flare-ups are a difficult but normal part of living with chronic pain. 

There can be many reasons for flare-ups such as overdoing things, being generally unwell, changes in medication and stress. Most often there is no particular cause and this is one challenge of living with chronic pain. As people learn to manage their chronic pain well, flare-ups often become shorter, less frequent and less severe. 

People with some inflammatory conditions need specific management strategies for flare ups. If this is the case your healthcare professional will explain when telling you about your condition. It is important to follow this advice to maintain long term health.

If you have not been given specific advice on flare-up management some of the ideas here may help.  It can help to put these ideas into a flare-up plan.  Often it is hard to think of ideas during a flare-up. Having a plan in place can remind you of ideas to try.

  • Balance rest with gentle movement - Taking more frequent rest breaks and setting smaller targets can help. Sitting down or going to bed for long periods may seem like a good idea but there is no evidence this helps with flare-ups. Moving regularly is good for joints and muscles and can reduce or prevent stiffness. This may include changing your posture or position or varying your activity. Some people worry about causing themselves more damage but flare-ups of chronic pain are not related to new damage to the body. A gentle walk or some stretches can actually help. Keeping moving may make it easier to get going again once the flare up has passed. 
  • Take your medication as prescribed.
  • Remind yourself of how you coped before - Some people find it helpful to remind themselves that flare-ups don’t mean there is any new damage to their bodies.  Reminding yourself that it will pass can also help.  
  • Relaxation can help reduce muscle tension - It can be beneficial physically and psychologically. If you regularly practice relaxation you could do this more often during a flare-up.

After the flare-up, it can be helpful to remind yourself that you have got through it and you can cope again. 

Some people find making a note in their flare-up plan of what helped them useful as it means they know what to do when their pain flares-up again. Over time, people can become more confident in managing flare-ups of pain so they find flare-ups less distressing and easier to cope with.