You may recall from my Ways to Treat Pain at Home article that I've dealt with chronic back pain for over 25 years. For that reason, I've become adept at modifying activities with a functional level of pain, and have learned a few things about managing pain flares along the way.
Managing Pain Flares
Generally speaking, my back and/or right hip pain is intermittent, or comes and goes, and hurts about 25% of each (and every) day. Most days it's only 1-2 on a scale of 10. That's a functional pain level for me, which means it's tolerable. A pain flare is when pain intensifies in frequency and/or severity in comparison to the day-to-day chronic pain. Managing pain flares is an important aspect of chronic pain management.
Avoid Chronic Pain Triggers
If you've ever dealt with chronic pain, you probably know that some days are just better than others. Chances are, you also know that avoiding chronic pain triggers is key preventing pain flares. Chronic pain triggers can include:
- Stress – stress can trigger a pain flare. It's important to reduce stress when possible.
- Poor sleep habits – consider using a natural sleep supplement if poor sleep has you hurting.
- Weather Changes and/or temperature swings – storms or changes in barometric pressure can result in joint pain for some. Pay attention to the forecast.
- Overexertion – doing too much can lead to a flare up. Pace yourself.
- Inflammatory Foods – certain foods can trigger a flare for some. Keep a food journal to see if any trigger your pain. For example, I know that my chronic pain levels are worsened by certain foods (sugar and grains to be precise), so I avoid them whenever possible.
- Infection – if you've eliminated other possible culprits of a flare, ask your doctor whether an infection may be to blame.
- Stinking Thinking – Stinking thinking is a vicious cycle. When you think, “it hurts it hurts it hurts” it's going to hurt. Having a positive thought life is crucial for those of us that deal with chronic pain.
Even with doing everything you know to do, pain flare ups can happen. Develop a pain action plan with your doctor for pain flares. Discuss how to tell the difference between a flare up and pain that needs to be evaluated right away. Keep a copy of your written action plan ready for when a flare up hits. Your action plan might include:
- ways to change, or pace, your activity
- short term changes in your medication or supplements
- using heat and/or cold for pain relief
- relaxation techniques or deep breathing exercises
- physical therapy, chiropractic therapy, or acupuncture
My pain action plain includes removing certain activities (like sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming) off of my to do list. I alter the way I take my turmeric supplement. Instead of taking 3 capsules at bedtime, I take 2 in the morning and 1-2 at bedtime. I see a chiropractor. I also recently started using THC Free CBD supplements as needed and am looking into cbd hemp flower products.
Manage Mental Health
Establishing healthy habits for mental health is helpful for everyone, but especially for those who battle chronic pain. Activities that give you a sense of peace, like a book club or coloring, and practicing visualization techniques can be helpful in managing pain. When pain increases, it's easy to veer toward unhelpful thoughts, like “here we go again” or “this is awful.” Pay attention to your thoughts. A pain action plan should include what to do about negative thoughts. For me, Scripture recitation is very useful when my mind starts to go there. A few of my favorites include:
- “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.” Psalm 18:2 NLT
- “Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” Jeremiah 17:14
- “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 NLT
- “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2 NLT
I also listen to specific worship songs when I have pain flares, because they keep me in the right frame of mind. My playlist includes these songs:
Yes I Will – Vertical Worship
Into the Sea – Tasha Layton
Do It Again – Elevation Worship
Ask for and Accept Help
Okay, this one is HARD for me. I really don't like having to ask others to do what I consider to be my responsibility. I have to remind myself (sometimes repeatedly) that Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”
In the midst of a recent pain flare, I was at our homeschool co-op. My pain level was at a 7 with pain medication. Our co-op is only once a week, and my kids really look forward to it, so I thought I should suck it up and go.
After lunch, one of the other mom's asked me what my pain level was. I responded honestly. She immediately said, “You should go home. I'll bring your kids home after co-op. Please, take care of yourself and let me do this for you.” I hesitated, because it's MY responsibility to be there with my kids. Then I reminded myself that it's okay to let others share our burdens. I came home and went to bed. For two hours I rested in a dark, quiet room. I'd like to say that it brought an end to the flare. It didn't. But it DID allow me to regroup, which was invaluable.
Move regularly. When in a pain flare, you may not be able to tolerate a lot of activity. Moving around in regular, paced small amounts, can help keep you from losing muscle tone. Inactivity is the enemy. Light activity like walking can help you. Of course, make time for rest, and don't push to the point of pain. Some days I can walk several miles. Right now, I can't walk an 1/8th of a mile without the pain worsening. Movement is important, but too much activity can wear you out and trigger more pain.
Find more resources for dealing with chronic pain at the American Chronic Pain Association.