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Many people who struggle with chronic pain will experience a dramatic increase in their pain from time to time. This is what we refer to as breakthrough pain or, more simply put, a flareup.

The intensity and duration of the pain during each episode may vary, but when it happens, it can cause a significant amount of disruption to your life, forcing you to cancel plans, miss work, or decrease activity until the pain subsides.

What causes flareups?

Many things can cause flareups, and the circumstances vary from person to person, making it challenging to offer a “blanket” solution that works for everybody.

Knowing the triggers that lead to a flareup may help you avoid them, but again, these are different for each individual. For this reason, it is important to be mindful and to make at least a mental note of your activity, what is going on around you, and what you are eating and drinking right before the flareup happens.

Overwork or overactivity, stress, injury, and fatigue are just a few of the triggers that may lead to an increase in pain. Sleeping poorly, cold or damp weather can also be at the root of the problem, as can inflammation-causing food and drink, medication, or environmental factors.

For some, simple tasks like getting dressed, coughing, going to the bathroom, or exercising can cause a flareup. Sometimes, however, there may not be any discernable reason at all.

If you are taking a long-acting opioid or another type of long-acting pain medication, you may experience a flareup if the medicine stops working in between doses. According to the National Pain Institute,

Listening to your body, being cognizant of your surroundings, and being willing to do what it takes to mitigate the situation is critical.

How to avoid pain flareups

There are many effective techniques to help you manage your pain and prevent flareups. One of the most significant is pacing.

Pacing and goal setting are frontline strategies in chronic pain self-management. Pacing involves breaking down your daily activities into smaller, more manageable chunks. The philosophy is such that once you know how long it takes to start feeling pain from a particular task, you should decrease the time you are engaged in that activity by at least 20 percent.

For instance, at work, you may want to take “mini-breaks” every 20 minutes or so, just to give yourself time to reset, change positions, walk around a bit, get a change of scenery, drink a glass of water, or have a stretch. Some people find it useful to set a timer on their smartphones or computers to remind them.

When your flareup is active

When you experience a flareup, your best strategy is to address the symptoms immediately.

  1. Stop doing the activity that is causing you pain.
  2. If you have been prescribed medication for breakthrough pain, take it right away.
  3. Apply ice, take some ibuprofen or naproxen.
  4. Do not stay inactive for too long: get up, stretch, and move around if you can.
  5. Practice deep breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques.
  6. Don’t panic – this will make the pain worse.

Always remember – flareups will pass. Learning strategies like pacing and goal-setting will help to lessen their frequency.

If you or a loved one is struggling with chronic pain, we can help. Reach out today to get started.