Osteoarthritis (OA) mainly affects cartilage, the tissue that protects your bones and cushions your joints.
OA is a degenerative disease, meaning it’s likely to get worse over time. However, symptoms can also come and go. When they get worse for a while and then improve, this is known as a flare-up or flare.
A flare-up can appear suddenly and various factors can trigger it. However, with appropriate management, it’s usually temporary.
If your symptoms continue to worsen, you might be experiencing worsening joint damage and not simply a flare-up.
Symptoms of an OA flare-up
Symptoms of an OA flare-up may include:
- increased joint pain
- swelling of the affected area
- reduced range of motion at the location of the joint
- fatigue from increased pain
Causes of OA flare-ups
It’s not always clear why a flare-up happens. Higher pain levels don’t always indicate more severe joint damage.
However, some people find that symptoms worsen for a while if they:
- have an injury to the affected joint or joints
- excessively or repeatedly use a joint
- have stress
- have changes in medications
- experience cold or wet weather or a drop in barometric pressure
OA damages cartilage, the tissue that cushions your joint during movement. As cartilage breaks down, friction occurs between bones. If too much friction occurs, a flare-up may result.
Osteophytes, or bone spurs, can also develop with OA. Bone spurs are small pieces of bone that form as a result of inflammation near cartilage and tendons. They usually occur where bone touches bone.
As they grow, they can cause a flare-up of symptoms. Sometimes, pieces of bone or cartilage can come loose and cause more pain, inflammation, and other symptoms of a flare.
Treating an OA flare-up
Treatment for OA and an OA flare-up usually involves a combination of over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications and home remedies. Talk to your doctor about the options below.
OTC pain medications are often the first course of action for OA flare-ups.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common OTC drugs for treating arthritis-related pain. These include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) as well as creams or ointments with NSAIDs or capsaicin.
If you’re looking for a natural alternative OTC solution, try natural creams such as the Better Nature Pain Relief Cream for everyday relief. This Cream can be applied up to 4 times daily and doesn’t contain any synthetic drugs. The Better Nature Pain Relief BalmX (heating) contains Capsaicin for the relief from arthritis-related pain.
All medications can have adverse effects, and it’s crucial to talk to a healthcare professional about which option to choose and how much to take.
If symptoms worsen, whether temporarily or in the long term, OTC medications may not offer enough relief.
In this case, a doctor may prescribe medication.
The American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation doesn’t recommend opioids, apart from tramadol. Opioids can have severe adverse effects, including the risk of dependency. For this reason, doctors tend to restrict their use.
Various home and lifestyle remedies can help manage OA. These may include:
- Weight management. Additional weight puts extra pressure on a weight-bearing joint, such as the knee, and this can make symptoms worse. Losing weight can help alleviate symptoms of OA.
- Exercise. Physical therapy and exercise can strengthen the muscles around a joint and allow them to support your joint more effectively.
Remedies that may help relieve symptoms during a flare-up include:
- heat therapy to ease stiffness
- cold compresses for pain relief
- activities to reduce stress, such as yoga and tai chi
- cane or walker to help with balance
- braces, kinesiology tape, and other forms of joint support
- rest between activities
Home remedies for OA flare-ups can help reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling, but you may also need medication. Speak with your healthcare provider if you notice home remedies aren’t helpful for your OA.
Preventing OA flare-ups
Joint damage is irreversible, but preventive measures can help minimize your risk of flare-ups and long-term damage.
The best strategy is to work with your doctor to make a treatment plan that involves both lifestyle measures and medical options.
Disclaimer: Information provided is of a general nature only, and you should always consult your medical professional.
Reference: Kristeen Cherney 'Understanding OA Flare-ups' Healthline accessed 18th May 2020 https://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/osteoarthritis-flare-up