Chronic PainTips for Tracking Symptoms and Flares

Tips for Tracking Symptoms and Flares

If you’re living with a chronic illness or condition like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or degenerative disc disease (DDD), you have good days and bad days. If you’ve been working towards reclaiming a healthy, active, pain-free lifestyle, you may enjoy weeks with minimal pain.

On the flip side, you may be caught off guard by days where you find yourself gripped by pain. To be free from pain and then find yourself trapped in it again can be a physical and emotional roller coaster.

One way to get ahead of flare ups is to better understand why you get them. Usually there are common triggers to blame for your flare ups. You just need to figure out what they are.

However, if your journey with chronic pain is new, it can be hard to do. Speaking from personal experience with a herniated L5 and DDD, in the beginning, I was unable to understand why the pain would ease up and then intensify. My confusion prompted a conversation with my physical therapist (PT) that I will never forget.

Take control of your self care

I had seen my PT earlier in the week, and was in great spirits because I felt good — I was able to do all of my exercises with minimal pain. Just a few days after that, I was in excruciating pain and could hardly do anything. My PT told me I needed to do a better job of managing my pain. I was shocked! “What do you mean ‘manage’ my pain? That sounds like I will be in pain forever!?” Suddenly, I realized what he meant. There was no cure or fix for my back condition. It was something I would have to manage for the rest of my life through self care.


Finding your triggers

My back pain was like a puzzle that I had to put together through trial and error. I kept a journal and began to figure out what was causing my flare ups. For me, it was a variety of things, like wearing certain shoes, sleeping on certain mattresses, sleeping in certain positions, long car rides, or whether I sat down too long or walked too much. It was a moving target at first, but the journal eventually gave me valuable insight.

Predictable flare ups 

For many people suffering from chronic pain, flare ups can be predictable. According to an article from the Arthritis Foundation, “Predictable” flares have a known trigger. For example, you decide to clean your house from top to bottom one day, overdo it and end up with swollen, stiff joints the next day.” The good news is flare ups like this will resolve in time.

Unpredictable flare ups

If you are completely blindsided by your flare ups, they can be much harder to manage. The pain may last longer and be more debilitating, especially if you can’t identify what’s triggering it. If you see a doctor, you may need to do further testing in case there is an underlying issue causing your flare up.

Tracking your flare ups

Thanks to technology, you can quickly track your chronic pain on your mobile devices. There are apps that make it easy to collect the data you need to figure out what’s triggering the pain.

According to Pain Doctor, “Other than keeping a pen-and-paper record of everything eaten and all activity, there are few effective ways of tracking episodes of chronic pain. Additionally, it can be hard to connect the dots between food/activity and chronic pain. New pain trackers and pain diary apps are changing all of that.”

Mood, food and medication

Chronic conditions can be positively or negatively impacted by all sorts of lifestyle choices. Things like diet and medication can play a role in how you feel. If you have a chronic condition and you’re trying to identify potential triggers, it’s helpful to track your diet, including alcohol.

Additionally, keep an eye on your emotions and mental well-being. According to Healthline, “Causes of flare-ups can be hard to pinpoint, but some studies show that stress is a common cause. Major life-altering events or day-to-day matters can cause stress and lead to flare-ups.” By tracking your mood, you might be surprised to see a correlation.

How do you track your pain to prevent flare ups? Let us know in the comments section below.

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