A flare up is a vague term, and can relate to a large variety of medical difficulties. Myself, and many individuals I connect with regularly, struggle with flare ups related to chronic pain; however, we often experience acute, breakthrough, and pain impacted by mental health. Whatever the flare up is related to, I think it’s safe to say that a flare up means you’re in a lot of f*cking pain. For myself, a flare up means I feel debilitated. I am incapable of committing to anything, struggle to take care of myself, and sometimes can’t get out of bed. Some flare ups last a few hours, while others can last up to a few days. The pain I feel can either be burning, stabbing, aching, throbbing, prickling, a few pains I can’t even describe, or all of the above, all at once. I might wake up with swelling in my ankle from over usage or no reason at all, or be impacted by the weather and experience pain all over. Sometimes I sit awkwardly for too long and suddenly can barely move from back pain. The list of what I have experienced in the nearly seven years of living with my conditions go on, and I rarely am able to completely manage a flare up, but over the years I have gained strategies to make them more tolerable. Below are some of the techniques I use when experiencing a flare up. I hope something in this post can help someone out there on one of those difficult days. I understand what you’re going through.
When I have a flare up it can be difficult to get the proper amount of rest, and when I don’t get the proper amount of rest I am more susceptible to having a flare up. It’s a sticky situation, almost like I can’t win; however, I know that getting the proper amount of rest when I am feeling well is one of the most important things I can do for myself, and one of the best ways to avoid having a rough day. I find that when people with an illness feel good, they go off of their routine and do as much as they can. I know I do. I push myself because it is rare when I feel “good”, I do too much and I don’t get enough sleep. I am not saying don’t enjoy these days, because you deserve too. What I am saying is listen to your body, and remember how vital rest is.
Due to my unhealthy relationship with sleep, I don’t take naps during the day, but a lay down in the day is extremely necessary for myself when having a flare up, and is also a good way to help your body avoid having a flare up. For myself, rest in the middle of the day might look like laying down on the couch and listening to an audiobook, or watching a show, possibly closing my eyes. My nights are often the same, as routine is very important for my sleep schedule. I attempt to go to bed around the same hour every night, after a hot bath, taking my meds and vitamins, and I usually write in my journal and listen to an audiobook. Most nights are not a solid sleep, but the effort to have a solid sleep makes a world of difference. My body thanks me for getting rest with less swelling, aches and pains, giving me more mobility, a happier nervous system and mind.
It sounds a little contradictory to say get moving when your body hurts so bad you can barely get from the bed to the couch, and while many of my flare ups are so bad I chose not to get any exercise, I often feel an immense amount of physical and mental pain relief when I do get up and moving. Much of the time I have to force myself, but even the shortest walk outside, or a bit of stretching in my living room can aid a flare up. I am extremely limited with mobility, more so now after ankle surgery, so it’s important to know my limit. My favourite exercise is a walk outside in my neighbourhood, seeing the greenery, getting some fresh air and listening to music. It may not always help the physical pain directly, but it absolutely helps my mental state, which I know has a huge impact on my physical state.
Contrast Hydrotherapy/Usage of Hot and Cold
Most of us are aware of how beneficial hot/cold is for our bodies. I’ve used this method since I was a young girl. Whether it was for relaxation in a hot bath or calming my muscles after a soccer game or a dance class, it has always brought me some relief. I started to utilize this method even more so after the car crash, first starting in the hospital back in 2013, to reduce pain, but also to improve inflammation, circulation, aid my nerve damage and much more. A flare up could be in my ankle, legs, hips, lower/upper back and neck/shoulders, or all at once, and when this happens one of my go to’s is to take a contrast bath. I first submerge myself in hot water, usually putting epsom salts and lavender oil in (a shower is great as well, I just enjoy baths as I struggle to stand in the shower), and while in the bath I do slow, light stretches. After about 20 minutes I switch to cold, but only for a few minutes to help with inflammation and circulation. This strategy can be used for spot treatments, like a hot foot bath or heating pad, and then switching over to ice packs. Because I have quite a bit of nerve damage, I check the temperatures with a part of my body that has “normal” sensation, and never put ice directly on my skin.
Before I had my most recent surgery, I started going to a local pool and using the pool, hot tub and steam room for a similar effect. I started with the hot tub, stretching and using the jets to help with certain muscles and scar tissue. I did light movements in the pool, and finished with the steam room, going to the cold shower a few times in between. By no means is contrast hydrotherapy or the use of hot/cold packs a total pain reliever, but it is a great start and a way to calm the body down. When our nervous system is rattled, our pain will only increase.
There are so many natural remedies out there to help with mild to chronic pain, and while natural remedies do not help me all on their own when I’m having a serious flare up, they’re a great addition. They are also incredible to take regularly to avoid more frequent flare ups. Here are some of natural remedies I use during a flare up:
- Ingesting high concentrate CBD oil drops
- Using Marijuana product butters/creams on joints and muscles – I use ILU and Miss Envy Buddha Bar
- Peppermint and Jojoba oil
- Hot/Cold (see above)
- Foam roller and lacrosse ball to relieve muscle pain and cramping
- Massage (if you can get in during a flare up)
- IMS (if you can get in during a flare up)
- Taking Magnesium and Turmeric (to hopefully avoid more frequent flare ups)
- Healthy diet and hydration/electrolytes (to hopefully avoid more frequent flare ups)
I think this one is a given, but maybe not stressed enough, and I cannot stress enough how vital it is to have a comfortable environment when you’re experiencing a flare up. Imagine a time where you were at school, or maybe running around getting chores done, or at an appointment, and boom, you feel the pain coming on. I know for myself that when this happens to me, the pain feels worse because I am uncomfortable with where I am. If I had to choose a place to be when having a flare up (I’d rather choose NOT to have a flare up, but that’s unfortunately not how it works), I would choose my home. This is because I feel safe and comfortable here, and I’ve made my space this way. My home is my safe haven, and I’ve even made spaces in my home that are my “go-to” areas to be when I am in pain. Try creating a space in your home where you can be as comfortable as possible when going through something extremely uncomfortable.
I am a firm believer in natural remedies; however, I am also a firm believer in pharmaceutical drugs. I would not be able to function properly without certain daily medications, and when I am in so much pain and can’t get out of bed, can’t even get myself to the washroom, I know I can rely on medications to help get me through the day. Medications are there to help us when we NEED them, so it’s important to recognize when we actually need them. Abusing and overusing is where things go wrong, but there are ways to stay on top of your medications, so if you need to take pharmaceuticals to manage your pain, do it. Just do so safely. Talk with your doctor, make a plan, be accountable for yourself and have others be accountable for you. Create a log on how much you take every time, and use this log to calculate your dosage and see your progress each week. So many of us are embarrassed to be on medications, but if you need them, that’s all that matters.
Self Care/Absolutely Nothing
While all of the strategies above are an important part of my routine when experiencing a flare up, nothing is as important as listening to my body and dropping everything to do nothing. As I am writing this, I am having one of these days, everything hurts and I am feeling foggy and out of it, and so I am only doing what I want to do, and what I can do. I know in this world, with families and jobs, we can’t just drop everything. It’s not easy to take a day off of work when you wake up with a flare up, or to leave when one starts in the middle of the day, but if you have the ability to take some of the stress of the day off of you, do so. Maybe this is by taking a longer break, or taking a bath when you get home. Maybe it’s laying on the couch and watching Netflix, reading your book in bed or ordering your favourite takeout. Maybe it’s simply doing nothing, whatever that may look like to you.