How to Prevent an Arthritis Flare

When you have arthritis, it pays to do what you can to avoid arthritis flares (times when symptoms are significantly worse). While flares can be managed, the best course of action is to try to prevent them.

The following tips don't guarantee you'll never have another flare. However, they're practical steps that can lead to fewer flare-ups.

This article explains six day-to-day strategies for keeping arthritis flares at bay.

An elderly man clutches his knee in pain as he uses a can to stand up from a couch.

Jub Rubjob / Getty Images

Stick With Treatments

Once your healthcare provider has established a treatment regimen for you, stick with the plan. Don't skip your medications or other treatments.

Treatments are important for keeping inflammation and pain under control. Skipping doses allows them to increase and can lead to a flare.

Arthritis is kind of like the embers of a fire, smoldering and looking for an opportunity to re-ignite. Don't give it that opportunity.

From Helpful to Harmful

Inflammation is supposed to be a helpful part of the body's response to injury or illness. However, when inflammation—and the pain it causes—becomes chronic, it's no longer helpful and starts causing harm.

Pace Yourself

Research on both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis suggests exercise is important. It helps maintain your strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

At the same time, it is important not to overdo it on exercise or other activities. Overdoing it and ignoring your physical limitations can provoke a flare.

Try alternating short periods of activity with rest. Also, vary your activities. For example, don't fold a whole load of socks in one sitting. Fold for a while, then do something that allows your hands and arms to rest.

The desire to not be held back by arthritis makes pacing hard. Find a balance that keeps you moving at a reasonable pace without wearing yourself out.

Protect Your Joints

While exercising or just going about your daily activities, it's important that you don't stress your joints—especially the ones already affected by arthritis.

The basics of joint protection include:

  • Avoid/modify pain-causing activity: If something causes pain while you're doing it, either don't do it or find another way to get it done.
  • Two-hour rule: Not everything causes immediate pain. If your arthritis pain is increased two hours after an activity, avoid that activity or do less next time.
  • Use assistive devices: Jar openers, shower seats, canes, raised toilet seats, grabbers, and dressing aids can all be helpful.

If you're struggling with joint protection, ask your healthcare provider if a physical therapist or occupational therapist could help.

Reduce Stress

Stress can increase arthritis symptoms, and lowering it can help you avoid flares. You can't avoid stress completely—sometimes it's beyond your control (e.g., death of a loved one, losing a job, divorce).

At other times, you have more control over your stress levels. You may be able to reduce your stress levels by:

  • Learning to say "no"
  • Simplifying your life
  • Getting organized
  • Conserving energy
  • Developing an attitude of acceptance

These steps aren't always easy. If you're having trouble with stress management, talk to your healthcare provider. They may refer you to a therapist who can help.

Get Enough Sleep

Getting a decent amount of sleep is important. You need more rest and recovery time than someone who does not have arthritis.

Disrupted sleep, especially on a regular basis, seems to increase pain and the risk of flares. This can be tough to get a handle on because it can be a vicious cycle:

  1. Arthritis pain disrupts your sleep
  2. Lack of sleep makes arthritis pain worse
  3. Repeat

If you're caught in this cycle and can't break it on your own, talk to your healthcare provider about options for better pain control. You may also benefit from sleep aids.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.

Avoid Trigger Foods

The effect of diet on arthritis has been disputed for years. Some claim there is no direct effect, while others believe certain foods increase inflammation and make arthritis symptoms worse.

What's clear is that there's no one-diet-fits-all approach for arthritis. You may want to experiment with an elimination diet or anti-inflammatory diet to see if it works for you. If you find certain foods make your arthritis worse, steer clear.

Summary

You may be able to avoid arthritis flares with simple strategies such as sticking with your treatment plan, pacing yourself, protecting your joints, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and avoiding problem foods.

A Word From Verywell

When you're getting started with managing arthritis, it can seem overwhelming. To make it more approachable, just take one change at a time. See how much it helps, then move on to the next.

While following these strategies may make arthritis flares fewer and farther between, they're not a cure. You'll probably still have to manage a flare now and then.

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9 Sources
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