If Youve Got Arthritis Youve Probably Experienced The Intense Pain Of Flares Heres How To Handle Them
Youre feeling good, barely thinking about your chronic pain, and then wham an arthritis flare hits you like a Mack truck. These periods of increased disease activity take a toll on you physically and emotionally, especially because they can come on unexpectedly. If youve got either osteoarthritis or an inflammatory type of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis, you probably know what were talking about.
So how can you deal with an arthritis flare-up when it happens? I remind myself, This, too, shall pass, arthritis patient Beth Bloomfield told us on Facebook. Like a kidney stone! another patient, Katie Resnick, joked back. Although arthritis flares are never pleasant, there are techniques that can help shorten their duration. Also important: Being able recognize when a flare is starting and avoid the triggers that may cause your flare-ups in the first place.
Some Daily Activities Are Difficult
Pay close attention to how you truly feel. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the few diseases where subjective measures of how a patient feels are among the best predictors of how well a person will respond to treatment and how much the disease will progress. Doctors may measure severity of symptoms using both the Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index and the Rheumatoid Arthritis Quality of Life questionnaire.
Watch Our Video About What Osteoarthritis Is
Osteoarthritis is a very common condition which can affect any joint in the body. Its most likely to affect the joints that bear most of our weight, such as the knees and feet. Joints that we use a lot in everyday life, such as the joints of the hand, are also commonly affected.
In a healthy joint, a coating of tough but smooth and slippery tissue, called cartilage, covers the surface of the bones and helps the bones to move freely against each other. When a joint develops osteoarthritis, part of the cartilage thins and the surface becomes rougher. This means the joint doesnt move as smoothly as it should.
When cartilage becomes worn or damaged, all the tissues within the joint become more active than normal as the body tries to repair the damage. The repair processes may change the structure of the joint, but will often allow the joint to work normally and without any pain and stiffness. Almost all of us will develop osteoarthritis in some of our joints as we get older, though we may not even be aware of it.
However, the repair processes dont always work so well and changes to the joint structure can sometimes cause or contribute to symptoms such as pain, swelling or difficulty in moving the joint normally.
For most joints, osteoarthritis is more common and more severe in women.
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You Were Diagnosed Late
Your RA symptoms may be worse if you had the disease for years before you knew it. If it isn’t spotted and treated early, inflammation can lead to joint pain, damage, and deformity that won’t get better. Physical therapy may help you move better and ease your pain. Surgery can also replace your damaged joint with a new one.
Forgetting To Protect Your Joints
Joint protection is an important part of any treatment program for RA. The goal is to reduce pain, prevent deformity, stabilize the joints, and reduce stress on the joints. This is accomplished through the use of splints, braces, or assistive devices exercise proper body mechanics pacing your activities and modifying your environment if necessary. Failure to protect your joints can make RA worse.
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Working With Your Doctor
You may not need to see your doctor every time you have a flare-up.
However, if pain and other symptoms last beyond a few days, you may want to make an appointment. Your doctor can investigate any symptoms that seem to be progressing, such as a reduction in flexibility.
Tracking flares through a journal or app can help you and your doctor to monitor the progression of your OA. The information you collect can help inform the decisions you make about treatment.
Your doctor may recommend imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI. These can help identify changes that might indicate whether youre experiencing a flare-up, long-term damage, or both.
If the results suggest new changes, your doctor will help you adjust your treatment plan to take these into account.
In time, flare-ups may become more frequent and symptoms can start to affect your mobility and quality of life. At this point, you may wish to consider joint replacement surgery.
Surgery is usually the last option for treating OA, but many people find it resolves recurring flare-ups and decreases the pain.
for OA and an OA flare-up usually involves a combination of over-the-counter or prescription medications and home remedies. Talk to your doctor about the options below.
You’re Having A Flare
Red, warm, swollen joints are inflamed. A flare is when inflammation in your body spikes. Your symptoms can get worse. You might also have a mild fever, fatigue, and feel sick all over. To treat a flare, your doctor might adjust your medicine to lower the inflammation. To feel better, get more rest and apply hot or cold packs to sore, swollen joints.
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Common Medications To Treat Arthritis Flares
OA patients might just need some OTC pain-relieving medication such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Dr. Bose also recommends topical gels and lotions like diclofenac gel or 2 Old Goats. If that doesnt work, Dr. Ashany says joint injections of steroids may be given. RA flares are more complicated. In inflammatory arthritis, steroids are often used to try to quickly bring a flare under control, Dr. Ashany says. If only one joint is involved a steroid can be given by injection, but otherwise it can be taken orally .
In inflammatory arthritis, if flares continue to occur, this indicates that the patients regimen of maintenance medication is not adequate, Dr. Ashany says. This may lead to addition of a medication, switching one drug for another or increasing the dose of medication that the patient is currently taking.
What Are The Parts Of A Joint
Joints get cushioned and supported by soft tissues that prevent your bones from rubbing against each other. A connective tissue called articular cartilage plays a key role. It helps your joints move smoothly without friction or pain.
Some joints have a synovial membrane, a padded pocket of fluid that lubricates the joints. Many joints, such as your knees, get supported by tendons and ligaments. Tendons connect muscles to your bones, while ligaments connect bones to other bones.
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Measures To Reduce Pain
Track weather forecasts closely. You dont have to turn the Weather Channel on every time youre in need of a quick forecast. Instead, use apps like Weather.com or DarkSky on your smartphone to get an accurate, up-to-date forecast for your location in seconds. This will help you plan accordingly if cool, damp weather is on the way.
Layer up. Wearing layers helps to shield your body from the cold and damp, as does simple accessories like gloves, warm socks, scarves, and hats. Even if it seems sunny but you know its in the 50s outside, dont be wary of layering up.
Exercise at home. Getting outside or even to the gym to pack in your daily workout just feels harder when its gloomy and cold outside. Dont let the weather interrupt your fitness schedule though! Exercise at home with free, online yoga videos, resistance bands, lightweight dumbbells, or an exercise ball.
Treat pain naturally. If your joints feel too painful to exercise even, try natural pain relief methods like applying topical arthritis creams and ointments, administering some type of heat therapy, wearing compression gloves or socks, or massaging inflamed joints.
Eat warming foods. Up your consumption of foods with naturally thermogenic properties which have been shown to aid inflammation and increase body temperature. Ginger, cayenne, and turmeric all go well in a hot lemon tea, while citrus fruits like lemons and oranges have been shown to help relax blood vessels and boost blood circulation too.
Bring On The Chili Peppers
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers and it can be used topically over symptomatic joints first thing in the morning to help ease the pain. It doesnt work for everyone, but some find it helpful. Be careful, it does burn a little at first!! Don R. Martin, MD, a rheumatologist with Sentara RMH Rheumatology
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Wake Up And Make A Pot Of Tea:
Green and white teas are rich in polyphenol, a compound that has antioxidant effects. Green tea is generally viewed as the most beneficial of all because its active ingredient is a polyphenol known as epigallocatechin 3-gallate . EGCG has been shown to be as much as 100 times stronger in antioxidant activity than vitamins C and E. Studies have shown it also helps preserve cartilage and bone. Add in a bit of local honey for an added boost of antioxidant and antiviral properties.Avoid these types of teas at night because of the caffeine content.
Night time arthritis pain is common. However, having arthritis does not mean that a person has to live with chronic sleep deprivation. The right combination of medications, sleep hygiene practices, and lifestyle adjustments may help a person sleep better.
Causes Of Morning Stiffness From Arthritis
Feeling stiff when you first wake up in the morning is a common problem associated with arthritis. Morning stiffness causes you to hurt all over as you get out of bed. As you take your first steps, your joints and muscles ache so much, you want to crawl right back into bed. In fact, morning stiffness can be the most severe pain you feel all day and it can impair or interfere with your ability to function and perform routine tasks and activities of daily living.
Paying attention to the duration of your morning stiffness will help both you and your healthcare provider decide how to deal with it. Morning stiffness that lasts more than an hour and in some cases up to several hours is characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory types of arthritis. Morning stiffness that is less prolonged is more likely to be osteoarthritis or another non-inflammatory, musculoskeletal condition. In spite of having a regular treatment regimen, morning stiffness is a persistent problem for many people with arthritis.
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Effective Treatments For Ra Are Available
But the good news is that in 2021, the treatments for rheumatoid arthritis are better than ever. There are phenomenal therapies for RA, and most patients will have a completely normal life, provided they take their medications, says Vinicius Domingues, MD, a rheumatologist in Daytona Beach, Florida, and a medical advisor to CreakyJoints, a support, education, advocacy, and research organization for people living with arthritis and rheumatic disease. Here are five important things to note about disease progression:
Stop Thinking You Can’t Exercise
Many people who have arthritis are afraid if they’re active they’ll have more pain and so they just don’t get any exercise. This may be one of the biggest misconceptions about arthritis.
At the same time, it’s an ironic idea because inactivity actually makes pain and disability from arthritis worse over time, while regular exercise keeps joints moving and prevents stiffness, strengthens the muscles around the joints, and improves mobility.
So if you’ve been sedentary out of fear you’ll make your arthritis worse, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure it’s OK to exercise. Then start slowly with gentle, joint-friendly movements. It’s fine to respect your arthritis pain, but you don’t have to let it stop you.
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Your Range Of Motion Changes
Commonly, people will say their fingers dont straighten anymore or they cant bend or straighten them all the way, Dr. Wallace says. Their fingers dont necessarily hurt more, but they don’t work like they used to work.” Any range of motion or function changes like these can indicate rheumatoid arthritis progression, even without accompanying pain or tenderness.
Most people with active rheumatoid arthritis have a limited range of motion in the joints most affected by the disease, Dr. Wallace says. For many people, this includes the joints in their hands, which makes it hard to do everyday things, like drink coffee. A lot of people with active rheumatoid arthritis have problems with things like holding coffee cups, gripping steering wheels, chopping vegetables, things that require a tight grip, she says. This is often worse in the morning and gets worse when a person is experiencing a flare.
Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend using supportive devices, like finger splints, to correct mild deformities. In situations where you have scar tissue or your joint function is severely limited, surgery may be necessary to regain proper functioning, according to Merck Manual.
You Develop New And Unusual Symptoms Unrelated To Your Joints
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, meaning it can affect multiple tissues in the body, not just joints, Dr. Wallace says. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis experience symptoms in other areas of the body beyond the joints. A lot of people develop inflammation in these other areas later in the disease as it progresses, Dr. Wallace notes. You may not always notice symptoms,, or even realize that a change in your eyesight or shortness of breath is in any way related to rheumatoid arthritis. This is why its really important to tell your doctor about any new symptoms or changes in your health, even if it seems unrelated. Uncontrolled inflammation in these areas can lead to more serious health impactslike increasing cardiovascular disease risk, for exampleso its important to keep your physician in the loop so it can be addressed, Dr. Wallace says.
Its easy to think of these changes as no big deal. But being mindful of your pain levels, mobility, and overall health can help you spot the signs of rheumatoid arthritis progression. Understandably, experimenting with new medications can feel stressful, but finding a treatment plan that helps you feel your best will allow you to move and live better in the long term.
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Complementary Medicine For Osteoarthritis
In many cases, theres little research evidence to show that supplements and herbal remedies can improve arthritis or its symptoms, but many people feel they do benefit from them.
Below are a few of the supplements often used by people with osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine is found naturally in the body in structures such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Supplements are usually produced from crab, lobster or prawn shells, although shellfish-free types are available. Theres some research to suggest it may have some benefit in painful osteoarthritis, especially of the knee.
Most trials have used a dose of 500 mg three times a day, and the evidence seems to suggest glucosamine sulphate may be more effective than glucosamine hydrochloride. It doesnt help the pain straight away so youll need to take it for a couple of months. If it hasnt helped after two months, then its unlikely that it will.
Chondroitin exists naturally in our bodies and its thought that it helps give cartilage elasticity. The research evidence is limited to animal studies that suggest it might help to slow the breakdown of cartilage.
Dont expect to see any improvement for at least two months. And if your cartilage is badly damaged, its unlikely that youll benefit from chondroitin.
There are a number of different treatments available and they can generally be used alongside prescribed or over-the-counter medicines.
What Are The 4 Stages Of Osteoarthritis
The four stages of osteoarthritis are:
- Stage 1 Minor. Minor wear-and-tear in the joints. Little to no pain in the affected area.
- Stage 2 Mild. More noticeable bone spurs.
- Stage 3 Moderate. Cartilage in the affected area begins to erode.
- Stage 4 Severe. The patient is in a lot of pain.
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Work On How You Manage Stress
When you’re stressed out, it’s not just in your head. Your body makes more stress hormones, which may trigger RA symptoms.
There’s no way to avoid stress completely, of course. But you can help prevent it if you take better care of yourself when you know that you have stressful events coming up, like work deadlines.
Look for new ways to ease your mind. For instance, exercise releases “feel-good” hormones called endorphins. Studies show that moving around improves your mood and helps you sleep better. Pick activities that don’t put pressure on your joints. For example, go for a walk instead of a jog.
Mind-body techniques also can lower stress. Examples are:
Check to see if your local community center offers free or low-cost classes.
Neglecting Your Oral Health
Research suggests that tooth loss may predict RA and its severity. Researchers who have studied the connection between RA and periodontal disease discovered similarities in the joint and oral tissues, and in the inflammatory processes that affect them. The types of cells that infiltrate both tissues of the joints in RA and of the mouth in periodontitis a progressive form of gum disease are similar. Also, the levels of pro-inflammatory proteins, such as tumor necrosis factor , interleukin-1, and interleukin-6, are also similar in both RA and periodontitis. There are potential consequences when oral health is neglected.
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