Patient Blogs | Ankylosing Spondylitis
Keeping a Flare Journal
photo of woman writing in a notebook

Learning to manage chronic pain is a tricky business. You don't know from one day to the next how you’re going to feel. What may have worked for you yesterday may not necessarily work for you tomorrow.

Chronic pain doesn’t care that you’ve made social plans like attending your niece's bat mitzvah. And it’s unsympathetic when you want to attend your son’s baseball game so you don’t miss him hitting a home run. (You’re sick and tired of hearing the news from other people.)

Talk about throwing a wrench into your life!

When I start working with clients, one of the first things I ask is if they’re aware of their flare triggers. Some are. Some have absolutely no idea. Do you know what triggers the painful flares in your knees or neck?

Managing a flare is like trying to drive a car in first gear and reverse at the same time. It's not going to work very well. You need to focus on one task at a time. Managing your flare is no different. So you need to figure out what triggers it and how to approach the problem.

Years ago, I took part in a mad experiment -- a 4-week elimination diet -- to get to the bottom of what was causing my kneecaps to swell the size of baseballs. Let me tell you, that was a very challenging way to eat.

The naturopath asked me to stop eating many types of foods including cheese. At the time, I wasn’t aware that cheese can be inflammatory. No good for the joints. Even though I wasn’t thrilled about giving up certain foods over this time period, I learned something very interesting as a result.

I discovered that fresh tomatoes and soy milk didn’t like me. I liked them. But they really didn’t like me. So we haven’t come into contact with one another in the last 6 years.

The elimination diet was an eye-opening experience because I wouldn’t have known about this dysfunctional relationship without doing it. I’m not telling you to toss your cheese sticks and field tomatoes from your fridge or to start an elimination diet tomorrow. There’s a quicker way you can discover what could be triggering your flares.

Keep a Flare Journal

It’s an eye opener. Want to give it a go?

Over the next 7-10 days, write:

  • The time
  • Day of the week
  • Where you are
  • Who is or isn’t with you
  • What you’re doing
  • What you eat and drink over the course of the day
  • The level of pain intensity on a scale from 1-10  

Still not sure? Some of the benefits of keeping a flare journal:

Improved communication with doctors. By tracking your pain levels and identifying potential triggers, you can provide your doctor with valuable information that can help them manage your condition more effectively. Additionally, this can help reduce flare frequency and improve your overall quality of life.

A greater sense of control. A flare journal can give you a greater sense of control by providing a space to track and reflect on your symptoms. By recording your pain levels after eating, you can gain a better understanding of how your body works and how to best manage your condition. Keeping a flare journal can give you a greater sense of control and empowerment when it comes to managing your health.

Clearance of emotional stress. By providing a space to track and reflect on your emotions, you can gain a better understanding of how your emotions affect your pain levels. This, in turn, can help you find ways to manage your emotional stress more effectively, which can lead to a reduction in overall stress levels.

Again, it goes back to what I said earlier: If you’re trying to get healthy and possibly pain free, it’s imperative to know all the facts. Once you do, you can put together an effective plan of action (with the support of your medical team) to manage your pain levels. Then experiment.

If you identify that cheese and crackers are no good for your back, then you’ll find yourself questioning if you really want to pop them in your mouth. We all have our go-to comfort foods to help us deal with a bad pain day.

But is the discomfort or pain truly worth it? There’s no wrong or right answer here. It’s all about choice and moderation.




Photo Credit: Kristina Strasunske / Moment via Getty Images

Tell us what you think of this post?
0 Like
0 Sad
0 Cheered up
0 Empowered
0 Care
WebMD Patient Blog © 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Lovaine Cohen

Lovaine Cohen

Diagnosed since 2001

Lovaine Cohen has lived with ankylosing spondylitis for over 20 years. A chronic pain coach, Lovaine helps women reduce pain with her Holistic Healing Method program and shares pain management and anxiety tips on her blog and on Instagram. Her loves include her two children in their early 20s, a rescue husky named Stella, and her husband of 28 years. Connect with Lovaine on Instagram.

Latest Blog Posts From Lovaine Cohen

Iritis and Other Eye Problems With Ankylosing Spondylitis

Iritis and Other Eye Problems With Ankylosing Spondylitis

I've had my ups and downs when it has come to managing my eyesight with AS. Fortunately, I haven't had any permanent vision loss, but I have had to ...

Read more
My Favorite Gadgets, Apps, and Hacks for Managing Pain

My Favorite Gadgets, Apps, and Hacks for Managing Pain

Today is your lucky day, my friend. I'm channeling my inner Oprah to share some of my favorite gadgets, apps, and hacks for chronic pain management. ...

Read more