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How to Keep Your Sanity During A Pain Flare

Do you experience a pain flare whenever the weather changes or if you’re on your feet for too long? Even your poor dog can see the agony you’re in.

Living with chronic pain can be incredibly challenging, especially when faced with the unpredictability of a flare. 

When I got pain flares in my left knee, they took my breath away. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about keeping them away so I can take long walks on a trail or shopping for groceries without ending up crying on the drive back home in my car. 

Today, you’ll discover useful and practical tips to help you manage a pain flare, before it rears its ugly head and what to do after it’s gone so you’ll feel empowered, if and when you experience another one.

girl standing on top of a mountain, looking at the sun and feeling empowered.

What is a Pain Flare?

A pain flare is a sudden and intense exacerbation of chronic pain symptoms. It’s like a storm brewing within your body, causing increased discomfort and distress. During a flare-up, your pain levels can skyrocket, making even simple tasks feel overwhelming. Understanding what triggers these flares is crucial to managing them effectively.

What Causes Pain Flare-Ups?

Pain flares can be triggered by various factors, including:

  • changes in the weather
  • overexertion
  • stress
  • certain foods

Your body’s response to these triggers can lead to inflammation and heightened pain sensations, amplifying your discomfort.

Chronic Pain Flare-Up Symptoms

Here are some symptoms that can be associated with a pain flare:

Intensified pain levels: During a flare-up, you may experience a significant increase in pain intensity, making it challenging to perform daily activities.

Increased fatigue: Chronic pain flares can leave you feeling physically and mentally exhausted as your body works overtime to cope with heightened discomfort.

Difficulty sleeping: Pain and discomfort can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or restless nights.

Mood swings: Flare-ups can affect your emotional well-being, causing mood swings, irritability, or feelings of depression and anxiety.

Reduced mobility: Pain flares may restrict your range of motion and mobility, making it difficult to move around comfortably.

Muscle tension: Flare-ups can cause muscle stiffness and tension, further aggravating your discomfort.

Decreased appetite: Pain and discomfort may suppress your appetite, making you eat less.

Feeling overwhelmed: Coping with chronic pain flares can be overwhelming, especially when they disrupt your daily routine.

Impaired concentration: Flare-ups can impair your ability to focus and concentrate, affecting your productivity.

Chronic Pain Flare-Up Management

Managing your pain flares requires many approaches. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are strategies you can use to minimize the pain of a flare-up.

Before a Pain Flare

1. Identify any patterns

Keep track of potential triggers to anticipate flare-ups. Pay attention to your activities, weather changes, stressors, and food choices that may contribute to flare-ups.

2. Keep moving

Engage in gentle exercises to maintain flexibility and reduce stiffness. Implement activities like walking, swimming, or yoga into your daily routine to keep the circulation moving in your body and relieve muscle tension.

3. Eat a well-balanced diet

Nourish your body with nutrient-rich foods to support overall health and reduce inflammation. Focus on eating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in your meals to get essential vitamins and minerals.

4. Practice stress-reducing techniques

Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or guided imagery to reduce stress, which can trigger a pain flare.

5. Prioritize adequate sleep

Try to establish a regular sleep schedule and create a relaxing bedtime routine to improve your sleep quality and duration. Limit caffeine and screen time at least 6 hours before bed and create a comfortable sleep environment to promote restful sleep.

6. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and support bodily functions. Dehydration can increase pain and discomfort, so aim to drink at least eight glasses of water daily.

7. Consider alternative therapies

Explore alternative therapies such as acupuncture or massage therapy to alleviate pain and promote relaxation. These treatments can complement traditional pain management strategies and provide additional relief.

8. Connect with a support group or counselor

Reach out to others who understand your experiences and can offer support and encouragement. Joining a chronic pain support group or seeking individual counseling can help you cope with the emotional challenges of dealing with a pain flare.

During a Pain Flare

Pick at least 5 tips from the list below that resonate with you. Use them to help bring down the intensity of your flare:

1. Distraction

Engage in activities that divert your attention from pain, such as listening to music, watching a movie, or painting. Distraction techniques can help shift your focus away from pain and promote relaxation.

2. Rest

Allow yourself time to rest and recuperate during a flare-up. Listen to your body’s signals to avoid wearing yourself out.

3. Meditation

Practice mindfulness meditation to promote a sense of inner calm and reduce stress. Focus on your breath and observe your thoughts without judgment, allowing yourself to find peace in the middle of discomfort.

4. Deep breathing

I’ve mentioned deep breathing again because I have found doing so to be extremely effective. After all, deep breathing exercises promote relaxation. Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and exhale slowly through your nose, releasing tension with each breath.

5. Stretching

Perform gentle stretching exercises to keep the blood flow moving in the area of your body experiencing the flare. Focus on stretching tight muscles and holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly.

6. Be honest about what you need

Communicate your needs to loved ones and your doctor during a flare-up. Be honest about your limitations and ask for support when needed, whether it’s help with household chores or emotional reassurance.

7. Continue to move

Do light, low-impact activities to keep your body moving during a flare-up. Gentle movement can help prevent stiffness, enhancing pain relief and your recovery.

8. Keep on top of self-care

Take warm baths, practice gentle yoga, or listen to soothing music to nurture your body and mind.

girl sitting on sofa, contemplating in her journal.

9. Write in your journal

My coaching clients love using a journal as we work together. Expressing your thoughts and feelings can provide emotional relief and clarity during a flare-up. Write in a journal or notebook, documenting your experiences and reflecting on your emotions to gain insight and perspective.

10. Practice gratitude

Focus on the positives in your life to cultivate a mindset of gratitude during difficult times. Make a list of things you’re thankful for, no matter how small, and remind yourself of the blessings amidst the challenges.

Learning from a Pain Flare

Create a toolbox: Compile resources and coping strategies to draw upon during flare-ups. Include items such as heat packs, pain-relief medication, relaxation exercises, and comforting distractions in your toolbox. Having these tools readily available can empower you to manage a pain flare more effectively and regain a sense of control.

Create a flare management plan: Develop a comprehensive plan outlining steps to take when you’re experiencing a pain flare. Include strategies for managing pain, self-care activities, and when to seek medical advice. Share your plan with family and doctor to ensure everyone is on the same page and can provide support when you need it.

Break down tasks that are a priority: When facing a flare-up, prioritize essential tasks and break them down into smaller, manageable steps. Focus on completing one task at a time, pacing yourself, and conserving energy. Delegate non-urgent tasks or ask for help from friends and family members to lighten your load.

Use an app to track your mood: Use technology to monitor changes in your mood and pain levels over time. There are various apps available that allow you to track symptoms, record daily activities, and identify triggers in your pain flare-ups. I use the Bearable app with my clients. It tracks many things such as mood, sleep, and meals to gain valuable insights into triggers and symptoms. Before a session, they email the report to me so I can make observations and then we discuss what’s working or not working to help with pain levels.

Speak with your doctor: Consult with your healthcare provider to discuss your chronic pain management plan and explore additional treatment options. Your doctor can offer personalized advice and recommendations based on your individual needs and medical history. Be proactive in advocating for your health and communicate any concerns or changes in your symptoms to your healthcare team.

Learn to recognize when a flare starts:  Pay attention to your body’s signals and learn to recognize the early signs of a flare-up. Listen to your intuition and prioritize self-care activities when you sense that your symptoms are getting worse. Slow down your pace, rest when needed, and avoid pushing yourself beyond your limits. By tuning into your body’s needs and respecting your limitations, you can minimize the impact of flare-ups and promote a faster recovery.

Practice acceptance and self-compassion: Avoid self-blame or negative self-talk and instead, treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Remember that flare-ups don’t define you, and it’s okay to ask for help and support when you need it. 

Educate yourself: Understanding the underlying causes of your pain can empower you to make informed decisions about your treatment and self-care. Stay up-to-date on the latest research and treatment options, and don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification from your doctor. By becoming knowledgeable about your condition, you can advocate for yourself more effectively and take an active role in managing your chronic pain.

Final Thoughts

Living with chronic pain presents its challenges, but with the right strategies, you can navigate pain flare-ups like a pro. You’ve discovered some practical tips for managing them effectively.  From creating a flare management plan to practicing self-compassion and seeking support from your friends and family, you have the tools to empower yourself in your pain management journey.

As Frida Kahlo once said, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” Embrace your inner strength and soar above the challenges of chronic pain.

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How long can a pain flare last?

Pain flares can vary in duration, lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days. Factors such as the underlying condition and individual response to treatment can influence the length of flare-ups.

What triggers a flare?

Changes in weather, physical exertion, stress, and certain foods can trigger flares. Identifying and avoiding personal triggers can help minimize the frequency and intensity of flare-ups.

What not to eat during a flare-up?

It’s best to avoid inflammatory foods such as processed sugars, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fats. Opt for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains to support pain management and overall well-being.


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