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The “Get Out of Flare Free” Card

The “Get Out of Flare Free” Card

Living with rheumatoid arthritis is frustrating to say the least. This disease causes pain, inflammation, and fatigue, all of which can place limitations on one’s activity level. While that’s bad enough, rheumatoid arthritis is extremely unpredictable, making it challenging to plan ahead. I may go to bed feeling pretty good, yet wake up in the morning (or the middle of the night) with intense discomfort and/or swelling. I may be having a good day with minimal symptoms, but be struck by a shooting jolt of pain that stops me mid-sentence or mid-stride. The unpredictable nature of RA often leads to cancelling plans with others and rescheduling appointments or projects.

The RA activity hangover

While RA’s erratic activity can be infuriating, there are certain patterns I can expect. Often when I’m able to be physically active, I later experience what I call an “activity hangover,” which is a relatively brief (24-48 hours) flare of pain, swelling, and fatigue that follows strenuous activity. These activity hangovers are common enough that I will plan for them. For instance, I don’t host dinners or get-togethers on Sundays, as I’ll have to work the next morning and will need time to recuperate after the shopping, cooking, and cleaning involved in hosting an event. Similarly, I always pad trips with a day of rest upon my return home before I have to go back to work. Just as one can expect a headache the morning following a night of drinking, I expect an uptick in my RA disease activity when I engage in anything at all strenuous.

A day free of RA pain?

However, RA is anything but consistent, and every now and again its unpredictable nature works in my favor. While activity hangovers are common, every once in a while I’m thrilled to discover I’ve instead been granted a “Get Out of Flare Free” card. This occurs when I’ve engaged in a strenuous (by RA standards) activity, yet I don’t end up having to pay for it. For example, a month or two ago I spent a couple of hours weeding the yard and thought my knees and hips would be screaming at me later, but was delighted to discover that I escaped a flare. A few weeks ago I went on a trip with friends that involved a lot of sightseeing on foot. I thought I’d be paying for it that night or the next morning, yet I was no worse for the wear, other than being a little tired.

The unpredictable nature of RA can feel like I’m perpetually rolling the dice, never knowing whether I’ll get winning numbers or end up feeling like I lost big. All too often, it seems I’m paying fines for any advancement I’m able to make, having to move back a space for every two I move forward. Therefore, when the flipside happens and I score a “Get Out of Flare Free” card, I’m overjoyed with my good fortune. While the unpredictable nature of rheumatoid arthritis can make it hard to navigate through life, it also keeps me feeling grateful for the “good days” when my body is able to move, when I am able to fully participate, without having to pay a price.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Rosie53
    3 years ago

    This article is so me especially on shopping days. One time I had 3 errands to do in one day (including food shopping) that when I got home I was halfway done with putting things away and called my son and told him he had to finish and I collapsed on my bed.Usually that night of doing is also the night of the leg and foot cramps. I do find drinking pineapple juice helps me I feel its the bromelain in it that does. But on the subject of the sharp out of nowhere pain I will be talking to my husband or daughter and let out a screaming moan. I have one area of my hip/butt check(yes) That will feel like a lightning bolt shot right through it. Only lasts maybe 10 seconds and calms down and may or may not reoccur that day or a few but it definitely stops my conversation!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Rosie! I hadn’t heard the tip about pineapple juice for cramps before, so that’s handy. I too experience hip and sacroiliac joint pain, and they are frequent offenders when it comes to jolts of pain. Thanks for being in our online community!

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