Managing Pain on Bad Days

As the weather turns colder I gather up my pain management tools to cope with more frequent rheumatoid arthritis flare days.

I have found my joints increasingly sensitive to changes in weather and temperature. As cold days turn more frequent, I feel more stiffness and pain in my joints. Sometimes I wonder if I should move to a warmer climate, but as much as I hate the cold I would miss the winter and am happy with the life I’ve built.

That means I just have to continue recognizing my bad days and coping with them to the best of my ability. I employ a number of strategies to manage pain on RA flare days:

  • Stay warm. During cold days and when my joints are flaring painfully, it’s important for me to stay warm. When I go outside I wear a ridiculous amount of layers—sweater, scarves, coat, hat and even a blanket over my lap. I also use a heating blanket while at home. If I am comfortably warm, my joints are less likely to stiffen up and become more painful.
  • Adjust my medications. I have arranged in advance a protocol with my doctor so that if I am feeling more pain or an RA flare, I know I can increase my prednisone temporarily by a certain amount. I will also call and leave a message with my doctor so that we can touch base and see if anything else should be done, like a 10-day course of increased prednisone.
  • Sometimes use ice. I feel conflicted about ice. On the one hand when I have a hot and painful joint, it can really help to calm it down by applying ice for 15 – 20 minutes. However, my joint will often become stiffer from the cold. So I tend to use ice sparingly and when I have pain focused on a particular joint.
  • Rest. We’ve all been there—our RA flare becomes so strong with pain, throbbing joints and stiffness that there is no alternative but to rest. Sometimes this may feel like surrender, but I think of it as an opportunity to recuperate. It may be that in the winter I just need a little more rest and downtime than usual, but if that will help keep me in better health it is something I must do.
  • Massage. It’s a real treat but a gentle massage can really alleviate my joint and muscle pain from RA. I have found a great place with a masseuse that really listens. For me, a lighter touch is better because I can be very sensitive to massage. However, after some time working on my most problematic joints, I feel so much better and looser than before. And in between visits to the masseuse I have an accommodating husband who is willing to give some supplemental massage.


Over the years I’ve found other techniques that can help relieve RA pain and stiffness, such as gentle exercises, paraffin wax treatments, acupuncture and more. It really depends on how I’m feeling and what help is available.

My preference is to avoid additional medication as much as possible. With being on medications for so many years I am leery of the side effects and long term changes they can inflict on my body. However, I’m practical and if I need a jolt of prednisone to lift myself out of a bad flare-up I will do what is necessary.

I continue to experiment with pain management methods. This winter I’d like to incorporate more regular meditation as I’ve read that this practice can prevent pain and reduce it when it arrives.

What techniques can you share about your RA pain management?

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