Health All about flare-ups Many people with arthritis have heard of a flare-up but what is it, and what does it mean? Words: Georgina Maric What is a flare-up? A flare-up is when your joints become inflamed and painful, with a cluster of intense symptoms. It can be caused by overdoing an activity, or trauma to the joint. What are the main symptoms? It can be hard to tell a flare-up from disease progression but, with a flare-up, you may notice increased joint pain, swelling, stiffness and a reduced range of movement. Unexpected activity can stress out the joints and surrounding tissues, and cause pain. What can trigger a flare-up? During a flare-up, it is important to pace yourself by planning your day and incorporating short rests in between activities The most common triggers are overdoing an activity, or trauma to the joint. Pain might also be associated with bone spurs. These are small pieces of bone that form as a result of inflammation near cartilage and tendons, and they usually occur where bone touches bone. As they grow, they can cause a flare-up of symptoms. Stress can be another factor in causing flare-ups. Many people experience physical symptoms when they have high levels of stress and, in people with osteoarthritis, stress can exacerbate joint pain. This can make sleeping difficult, which can increase sensitivity to pain. Flare-ups may occur because of repetitive motion, cold weather, a change in atmospheric pressure, an infection or weight gain. How do you deal with a flare-up? During a flare-up, it is important to pace yourself by planning your day and incorporating short rests in between activities. Hot and cold therapies may help cold reduces swelling and numbs the area, while heat loosens up muscles, and increases flexibility and circulation. Try not to stop moving completely by doing a few gentle stretches to prevent getting stiff. How do I ask for help? Your GP should be your first port of call when you have a flare-up. They may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids or capsaicin cream. If the pain is severe, you may be given a steroid injection. Dont overdo any activity, and ask family and friends to help out.