How to Survive CRPS/RSD Flares
If you have CRPS/RSD you know that managing the daily pain is one of the toughest jobs that a person could have. Now add a flare on top of that and it often times knocks us down, throws us backward or derails ANYTHING we are trying to do in our lives.
What is a Flare?
If you are new to the CRPS diagnosis and even if you aren’t, you may be wondering what the term flare means. I know when I was first diagnosed I thought that it was quite possible that my entire life was a flare. I was always in excruciating pain, feeling that my body was engulfed inflames, sleepless nights, angry body, red, swollen feet and allodynia (sensitivity to touch).
A Flare is generally described as an acute episode of pain and inflammation in the body. The pain is characterized as even more severe than the background pain that we deal with. Sometimes this can be attributed to new activities, increase in physical activity and/or stress and fatigue.
Flares disrupt our daily lives. Our mobility. Our relationships. Our responsibilities. Our jobs. Our mental health. Physical symptoms of intense burning/nerve pain, nausea, blurry vision and extreme brain fog.
How to get through a Flare:
- Have a Plan with Your Pain Management Doctor:
- The doctor works with you to find long term medications to manage the overall pain. Another conversation that is worth having is how can you manage break through pain or a flare. This is a higher level of pain control and one that most likely is fast acting and only used for short periods of time.
- Examples of this are Ketamine troches (dissolve under the tongue) or with Ketamine Nasal Spray
- Stop what you are doing. When you feel your body winding up in pain, it is okay to put things on pause. For me these are very distinct moments and they typically happen at work or when I am out walking or running errands. My flares start as a burning or vibrating feeling in my feet that intensifies rapidly.
- Stop what you are doing. If you are shopping, check out. If you are sitting in your chair at work, I often times will shut my door and lay on my floor and close my eyes for 5 minutes. I then am able to make the decision if I am able to stay or if I need to go home early. If you don’t have an office, ask for a 10 minute break. Find a place to sit quietly and breathe slowly.
- When you continue to push an angry body it will push back. The pain intensifies and quickly snowballs into a monster. This is why pausing is so important
- Do not worry about what others will think if you need to stop what you are doing. Please only worry about you during this time. Those people aren’t going home with you to suffer the consequences of you not listening to your body
- Take Your Back up Pain Medication
- Make a note of the time and dose you took. As pain intensifies your ability to think and recall becomes weak. Many accidental overdoses happen when people are attempting to manage a flare. They may not realize that they have already taken the medication.
- Find a Comfy Spot & Rest.
- I have a stack of fuzzy, silky, plush blankets and big pillows that I use for flares. I set up what resembles a nest and I put things that I may need around me.
- I admit, I have been through my fair share of flares and so I have turned my nightstand (which is a small dresser) into a Flare kit. Meds, lotion, pain relieving cream, my remotes, large water bottle, biomat (or heating pad), phone, computer, reading book and my chargers. If I have to be in a horrible flare I want to be comfortable.
- Try to Meditate.
- Body scans are helpful during a flare as they focus on other parts of the body
- Read more on pain in the Mindful Monday Minding the Pain here (also offers name of helpful app for guided meditation).
- Distract Yourself
- Sometimes when my body is in flames, I honestly can’t meditate or rest. I have to distract my mind from the intense pain signals.
- Call a friend or message with someone. Play an app game on your phone, watch tv, read a book, scroll through social media, reach out to those in your online support group
- Move your body
- I know this is the last thing that you want to do when you are in the midst of a flare but trust me when I say it is the most important aspect of dealing with a flare in CRPS.
- If we don’t move, the flare will cause our body to stiffen, swell, radiate more pain and becomes more sensitive
- desensitization. Gently touch the affected area even if it is sensitive
- Movement helps the blood flow, which will decrease swelling and blood pooling.
- Light Stretching: Do what is reasonable for you. If you are physically active you may have bigger movements than if you have been confined to a wheelchair for most of the time. Listen to your body
- Get yourself to a warm therapy pool: Even if you only sit on the step or float around on a noodle, the water is so therapeutic. The water also reduces the affect of gravity and allows us to move easier than we can on land. (Find a pool beforehand and find out the details of how you can use this pool so you don’t have to think about that during a flare).
- Ask a friend to sit with you
- Flares are scary. They hurt and they take us down a very painful road. It is easy to isolate yourself and become depressed about your situation. Depression feeds on loneliness and ruminating thoughts.
- A good friend can bring some take-out, a movie or just sit with you for a few hours so you won’t feel alone in this battle (you are never alone)
- Be Kind to Yourself. You deserve some TLC.
- Don’t allow a flare to define you. A flare is temporary. It will pass. It is not a life sentence.
- Treat yourself as if you are sick. Minimize strenuous activities as the body is in restorative mode. You can read more on Tips for Pacing here.
- Don’t compare yourself to others or feel shamed into doing something you can’t physically handle. Even against those in your supportive communities. Each and every flare is different. and everyone’s CRPS is different.
- It is okay to be sad. Flares suck. They put everything on pause. Feel your feelings, don’t feel ashamed for not being 100% positive or happy during these times.
- If your flare lasts more than a week, touch base with your medical team.
- They may be able to offer some treatment or intervention. Nerve blocks and ketamine infusions are examples of treatments that have helped me.
- CRPS is known to spread to other limbs and throughout the body. You want to make sure you are being proactive against this happening.
- If you are thinking that your CRPS has spread, definitely let your medical team know. A friend of mine who also suffers with CRPS has written a post about when CRPS Spreads (you can read that here)
I hate that flares are an inevitable battle in CRPS. Every time I have made progress and start to feel that I am managing my pain and diagnosis, I eventually run into a flare.
I always have to remind myself that this pain is temporary. A flare will end and I will get back to a good place.
If you have any other useful tools that help during a flare, please share them in the comments below!