Image Credit: Getty Images / evrim ertik

How to Create a Flare-Up Plan With Chronic Illness

Reading time | 3 mins

I was first introduced to the concept of a flare-up plan after I was referred to a three week in-patient pain management programme. I wondered where this idea had been all my life and why more people weren’t talking about them. I felt like every person living with a chronic illness should be given the advice to create one as soon as possible. Since then, I have been using a flare-up plan for almost five years now and it’s safe to say, I’m not sure how I coped before I had one.

To be fair, I didn’t really cope, I struggled.

What is a flare-up plan?

A flare-up plan is something that is completely subjective and personal to the individual who created it. It’s highly unlikely that my plan will be the same as someone else living with my condition, as there is no one-size-fits-all rule. What works for me might not work for others, and that’s fine - the flare-up plan should reflect your illness and symptoms, not anyone else’s. It’s for you – to remind you and to help you, and anyone else with whom you share your plan.

My plan contains two columns:

-          one column listing the type of pain I am prone to feeling (nerve pain, migraine symptoms, inflammatory pain, dislocation etc.)

-          one that contains various remedies and mitigations.

The remedy column is there to offer tips that may ease, improve or relieve some of the problems that I might be dealing with. It can include absolutely anything that you think might ease your symptoms.

So if a hot bath and your favourite film takes the pressure off your joints and takes your mind elsewhere, then add it to your plan! What about a head massage or some meditation? If it helps, write it down in your plan…

My flare-up plan

On my flare-up plan, potential remedies that I find help my joint pain include: heat, ice, gentle stretching, being mindful of posture, deep breathing, compression, using cushions for elevation, and mindfulness techniques.

If I’m feeling anxious I light candles, I call my friends to help take my mind off things, I do something I enjoy like reading or colouring, I meditate, or I take my dogs out for a walk.

As a writer who suffers with arthritis in my hands, on certain days I can’t physically type. So instead of feeling annoyed I use voice memos or speech-to-text software instead. I also always make sure to regularly rest my hands on a pillow and bathe them in warm water.

So, why have a flare-up plan?

The contents of my flare-up plan might seem like common sense to some people, but if you’re living with a chronic condition having something in black and white can really help.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times that pain has left me incapable of coherent thinking. When I’m mid-flare up, it’s difficult to think straight – let alone remember the various techniques I’ve learnt, or the tried and tested remedies that help. There are so many times that I’ve been suffering, crying, and desperate to find something that will take the edge off and haven’t been able to remember simple pain management techniques like compression or heat.

As a result, I decided to type up a copy and put in a little frame next to my bed so it is always near. I also have a copy on my fridge and on my phone in case I need to refer to it when I’m not at home (disclaimer: the copy on the fridge is mainly for my boyfriend although I’m pretty sure he must’ve memorised it by now!

A flare-up plan will also help your loved ones. Share your plan with those you live with or the people close to you so they can refer to it. I know that when my pain levels are extremely high, I easily get very frustrated. If someone suggests something that works for someone else or has “read it up online,” I snap. Having the plan handy helps keep my frustration levels low and reduces the chances of an argument in an already intense situation.  

Feel free to adapt your flare-up plan

Always remember that your plan can be updated as often as you like. It is not set in stone, and it is yours. Some of the remedies might not always work, some you might ignore completely and others you might not use very often.

But if something helps a little, then it’s worth keeping in the plan as you never know when you might need to implement it next.

UK/MED/19/0211 September 2019