WebMD BlogsPain Management

5 Ways to Manage Pain Flare-Ups

650x350_pain-flare-2
Peter Abaci, MD - Blogs
By Peter Abaci, MDBoard-certified anesthesiologist and pain specialistJune 18, 2018

If you live with chronic pain, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to learn how to manage pain flare-ups. A pain flare-up is a substantial increase in the intensity of an underlying chronic pain problem. While the change in pain level can be dramatic, it is not a new pain, but rather a significant exacerbation of a pain problem that already exists.

Still, the sudden spike in pain can be so unsettling that you may worry that there is a new injury or problem, leading you to shift your attention from calming the flare-up to seeking a new diagnosis and new treatment for this “new pain” (which isn’t really a new pain at all). All of this misplaced effort allows pain to run amok.

A pain flare-up is not to be confused with the term breakthrough pain, which originally came about to describe increases in cancer pain that were not adequately controlled by pain medications and needed an extra boost. Breakthrough pain eventually became a popular term for the pharmaceutical industry to promote the daily use of added pain painkillers during the day to try to bring down routine fluctuations in pain levels.

Pain flare-ups can be attributed to a whole host of causes, including these common culprits:

  • Physical Activity – A certain movement or task can set off a pain crisis. For example, something as simple as bending the wrong way or sitting too long in the car can be a trigger.
  • Stress – Whether it be emotional or physical stress, going into fight-or-flight mode seems to make us more sensitive to pain. We have a tendency to carry stress in our bodies right where we hurt the most.
  • Poor Sleep – Studies have shown that pain intensity can correlate with the quality of our sleep. Something as simple as staying up an extra hour later than normal can leave you feeling more pain sensitive and uncomfortable the next day.
  • Overdoing It – Trying to get too many things done in a day or participating in an activity for longer than what you can typically handle is a common cause of flare-ups.
  • Eating the wrong foods – Foods that cause inflammation, fluid retention, dehydration, or trigger headaches can play a role in aggravating an existing pain problem.
  • A Virus – Having the flu or a cold can leave muscles and joints feeling achy and can easily make a chronic pain problem feel that much worse.
  • ??? – It is worth pointing out that sometimes pain flare-ups occur from no particular cause; they just happen.

Whatever the trigger, it may be helpful to think of a flare-up as a situation where something has gone awry in the communication between the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. The processing of information in the brain and the nerves that connect with your body are telling your muscles to react and tense up. Having a robust flare-up management game plan is an integral part to successfully managing chronic pain.

Here are my tips to developing a winning flare-up management tool kit!

  • Pacing – Learning how to slow down and pace activities can be a critical part of living well with a chronic pain problem. If overdoing it causes you to crash for the next few days, then pacing will actually help you get more done in the long-run. Consider breaking up tasks into smaller jobs as opposed to trying to do them all at once.
  • Avoid Shutting Down – Sure, rest is an important part of recharging, but too much avoidance of activity can actually make the pain worse. Find the right balance between moving too much and aggravating the flare-up-up versus doing too little and causing the body to get tighter, stiffer, and sorer.
  • Don’t Panic – A bad pain flare-up can set off all kinds of alarms. But this mindset will only serve to make you tenser and hurt even more. Learn strategies to calm the nervous system and use them when you start to feel control slipping away.
  • Move – It may seem counter-intuitive, but the right movement strategies can be your best friend when it comes to managing a flare-up. Learn stretches to release tight muscles groups, or consider gentle yoga poses to connect the mind with the body in a calming way. And even doing some cardio or a nice walk can improve your mood and outlook enough to reduce the pain.
  • Pamper Yourself – This might be a good time to book a massage, check in with the chiropractor, or see an acupuncturist, if these practices have a proven track record with your particular condition. It helps to have an outside support team

Creating a successful flare-up-up tool kit will be well worth your time and energy, but it might mean thinking outside the box to get there.

WebMD Blog
© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Peter Abaci, MD

Peter Abaci, MD, is one of the world’s leading experts on pain and integrative medicine and serves as the co-founder and Medical Director for the Bay Area Pain & Wellness Center. He is a dedicated healer, author, and radio celebrity. To learn more about Dr. Abaci, visit his website.

More from the Pain Management Blog

View all posts on Pain Management

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

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.

Read More