I Hope It's a Flare
I’m a pretty outspoken person, but there is a list of things I never expected I’d say. “I hope it’s a flare,” is certainly close to the top of the list. A friend of mine with RA had tweeted that some unusual pain/soreness after her workouts that had been going on for a while. I responded that I hoped it was “just” a flare.
Changes that come with living with RA
The thing about flares is that as painful and miserable as they can be (which is really, really painful and really, really miserable), they usually pass at some point. Unfortunately, the same symptoms that indicate an imminent RA flare are the same signs that can signal a “new normal” for those of us with RA and other autoimmune diseases.
Most of the other RA folks I’ve talked to have had that “uh-oh what have I done” feeling when they get a painful twinge somewhere. We immediately wonder if we’ve overdone exercise or turned an ankle the wrong way or otherwise hurt ourselves. If the pain persists for a while, or there’s also swelling or increased fatigue, then there may be a flare involved.
The real problem is that RA is both chronic and progressive. Rather than a twisted ankle, that “uh-oh” moment might actually be the point at which RA has caused some permanent damage. This is why, after hearing how long my friend’s problem had been going on, I was hopeful she was just experiencing a temporary flare instead of a more permanent issue.
How to describe RA pain
One of the things that fascinate me is how people describe their RA. It illustrates how RA affects each of us differently and how each of us perceives the situation. For example, friend and fellow advocate/contributor to this site, Wren Vandever, talks about a “dragon” gnawing on her joints.
Rust never sleeps
I tend to think of RA in terms of the old Neal Young song, “Rust Never Sleeps.” Obviously, RA can make your joints feel “rusty” and hard to move. But beyond that, RA is a 24/7 provider. It’s always there. It is always on duty. It is always working. RA conducts a relentless barrage against us. Every day, in a lot of ways big and small (like rust), RA is changing our definition of “normal.”
Slowing down RA progression
The importance of maintaining our joints
There is no cure (yet) for RA, but like rust, maintenance can certainly slow it down. You can address those immediate concerns – stretches and gentle exercise for stiff joints, ice or heat for swollen joints, and pain relief when it hurts. Of course, good daily habits including diet and sleep promote overall good health and slow down the effects of not only RA but lots of other serious conditions.
RA treatment: the primary line of defense
The primary line of defense, though, is treatment. RA is not like a cold. It’s not going away in about a week and, unfortunately, it’s not going to get better on its own. Studies have clearly shown that early and consistent treatment is the best way to slow down RA and help sustain a good quality of life. (https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/early-arthritis-treatment.php) Different treatment plans work for different people, and fortunately there are more options now than ever before.
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