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6 Ways to Soothe a Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare

Here are some steps you can take to soothe an RA flare:

1. Follow Your Treatment Plan

It’s recommended that you check in with your rheumatologist regularly; for controlled Rheumatoid Arthritis, Greer recommends every three months. If a flare occurs, contact your provider right away so they will be able to quickly assess your RA and provide changes in your medications or treat the flare acutely, he says.

Everyone experiences RA and flares differently, so management strategies differ too, adds Michelle J. Ormseth, MD, a rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

In most cases, a regimen of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and a corticosteroid can bring minor flares under control. More severe flares may call for an immunosuppressant drug or biologic, or if you’re already on one, a change in that drug, along with a corticosteroid to help tame inflammation and other symptoms, says Greer.

2. Try Hot and Cold Packs

A heating pad or an ice pack can increase your pain threshold wherever you apply it, which helps decrease the sensation of pain, Dr. Ormseth says.

Use cold therapy if joints are swollen, as heat can worsen swelling. Apply a cold pack, like a bag of frozen vegetables, to swollen joints two to four times a day for 15 minutes each time.

Use heat if joints are painful but not swollen during your flare. Try applying a heating pad, warm compress, or heat patch to the affected joints two or three times a day for 15 minutes at a time, or soak in a warm bath.

Some people find a warm paraffin wax bath can provide relief for aching hand joints, says Greer.

Just make sure you don’t overdo either hot or cold treatment.

3. Soothe Your Body and Mind

Give yourself some extra TLC to help your body recover from a flare. “Emotional and physical stress play a role in RA flares, and I believe activities that help manage and reduce stress can have real benefits,” says Greer.

Practice relaxation techniques to help your mind and body calm down and recover. Engage in practices like tai chi, gentle yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and visualization. Try a little pampering — soaking in a warm bath, listening to soothing music, enjoying quiet time, or sipping a steaming mug of tea.

Where possible, do your best to avoid physically and emotionally stressful situations.

4. Call for Backup

The world doesn’t stop when your RA flares, and neither do your responsibilities. When rheumatoid arthritis knocks you down, put a second action plan in place to address the essentials — work, family, and household chores.

Designate responsibilities to each member of your household so that they know how and when to help when a flare strikes. Delay or reschedule anything that’s not urgent. If you need additional resources, try reaching out to your place of worship or a volunteer group in your neighborhood that can pitch in when you need help.

“Having a support system can make a big difference in managing your disease,” says Greer.

5. Balance Rest With Activity

Rest is important. However, sticking with your regular exercise program, or a modified version of it, may actually help you feel better, says Greer.

Try alternating rest with light activity, which could even be something as simple as slowly raising and lowering your legs while seated. But don’t overdo it, and if it hurts, stop.

Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the types of exercises that are easiest on your joints, and whether practicing gentle stretching in the morning might help relieve stiffness.

If you have access to a pool, swimming and water exercise are great options for people with rheumatoid arthritis, says Greer.

6. Prioritize Your Response to a Flare

It’s important to take action against an RA flare, but there’s no exact order in which you should tackle these steps, Ormseth says. If possible, try to do all of them together to bring symptoms under control quickly.

“Since it’s an immune-mediated attack on the joints, particularly for a severe flare,” Ormseth explains, “it isn’t good for people to just wait it out with rest, because the joints may get damaged.”

Work with your rheumatologist to manage flares appropriately and to get your rheumatoid arthritis under control — don’t just deal with your symptoms.

“It’s very important to treat the disease itself and not just mask the pain with pain medications,” adds Ormseth.

Because rheumatoid arthritis impacts the whole body, undertreated inflammation may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, research shows.

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6 Ways to Soothe a Rheumatoid Arthritis Flare


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