How to Manage Arthritis Flare-Ups

An arthritis flare is an episode of increased pain, stiffness, and fatigue. These 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 at all.

To minimize the impact of flares and help you recover as quickly as possible, consider the following advice.

Woman reading on couch with blanket
Aleksandra Jankovic/Stocksy United

Rest Your Body

It may seem like obvious advice, but people who are experiencing an arthritis flare often seem to fight it. Rest is necessary to recover from a flare. Painful joints must be given a break from movement and weight bearing. Remember that it's just temporary—and 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, or painkiller, medication, 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: never take more than the maximum allowable dosage. A temporary boost in your medication, however, approved by your healthcare provider, 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-milligram (mg) tablets given in decreasing dosages over six 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, however, because there are limits regarding how often you can get an injection. Generally, most healthcare providers recommend no more than two injections in a single joint per year and no more than four injections in a single joint in a lifetime.

Immobilize Affected Joints

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

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.

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 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 can 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 Healthcare Provider's Advice

Because arthritis flares are somewhat inevitable, you should know what your healthcare provider wants you to do when a flare occurs. Have a conversation with your healthcare provider ahead of time. Flares are typically inconvenient, meaning they can occur during the night or on the weekend when your healthcare provider is unavailable.

Know the maximum limits of your pain medication. Discuss whether you should always have a backup on hand or ready to be refilled. Know what your healthcare provider wants you to do.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. How is reactive arthritis treated?.

  3. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Arthritis.

  4. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Living With Osteoarthritis.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.