Chronic Pain

Coping with flare-up

Flare-ups or dramatic increases in pain levels are often part of chronic pain and many of the people that we talked to realised that they just had to accept them. How often they occurred and how long they last varied from person to person.

Several of the people that we talked to had learnt ways of managing pain so that they were less likely to experience flare-ups (see also 'Pain management' pacing and goal setting').

Flare-ups were often triggered by overdoing things, although the effects might not be felt until later, moving or sleeping awkwardly, or cold weather.

They could also be triggered by stressful events such as illness or a family get together (see also 'Sleep, stress and environmental factors').

Women, particularly those with pelvic pain, might have more pain at the time of their period. However, it can be difficult to identify a trigger.

Flare-ups often led to cancelled arrangements or disrupted plans for doing things, which could be frustrating. Concentration, sleep and personal care could also be affected. A couple of people had experienced spasms of pain in public, which they had found very embarrassing.

During flare-ups many people wanted to be on their own. One woman preferred to be alone but felt that it was important to let people know that she was having a bad day and wouldn't be in touch. Others called on family to help care for children or to take over the daily chores until they were back to normal.

It could sometimes feel like pain was taking over, which could be very frightening and because of these fears some people called for emergency help from their GP or from A&E care. Those who did were usually given strong medication or injections; others had found that emergency services did not help if they were mainly needing reassurance that their condition had not worsened.

Some of those who managed their flare-ups themselves still found them frightening. A man who knew how to manage his flare-ups said that he still initially panicked and a woman explained that they still filled her with dread and could make her depressed, although she had learnt ways to get through them.

Learning to cope with flare-up was important for many people. Drawing on previous experiences and knowing that the pain would subside can help people to get through it. Pain Management Programmes often include developing a flare-up plan while others had worked out plans for themselves. For more information on flare-up plans see Action on Pain’s website.

Medication was a central part of some people's flare-up plans although others preferred to only use it as a last resort (see also 'Managing, taking and stopping medication').

Rest, generally cossetting themselves, and relaxation, were important for many people, although some found it difficult to give themselves permission to stop. Whilst resting often meant lying down it was also important to keep active at some level as mobility could be easily lost from stopping everything and was hard to regain.

Keeping mobile could involve gentle stretching, yoga or just pottering about. Gentle exercise sometimes relieved the pain. As the pain lessened people could gradually increase their activity by pacing and start to get back to normal daily activities.

Some found hot water bottles, heat pads and electric blankets soothing, whereas others got more relief from cold packs or a pack of frozen peas.

Distracting the mind away from the pain was considered important, though people were not always able to do this without some effort. Reading could be a good distraction although some found it difficult to concentrate and preferred to watch television or listen to music, radio or tapes.

Some found it helpful to focus on pleasant thoughts, grandchildren, good times or a challenging piece of work.

Last reviewed November 2012.

Last updated November 2010.

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