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Woman writing her migraine flare-up plan in a paper journal with a coffee and her phone calendar

How to Create a Flare-Up Plan with Chronic Illness

Reading time | 3 mins
Disability blogger Sarah Alexander-Georgeson believes that everyone who lives with a chronic condition should have a flare-up plan.


I was first introduced to a flare-up plan after I was referred to three weeks of pain management therapy.  

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 subjective and personal to the individual who created it. It’s improbable 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 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 simple reliefs.

The “remedy” column offers 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 take the pressure off your joints and distracts your mind, 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, things that could potentially relieve my joint pain include heat, ice, gentle stretching, good posture, deep breathing, compression, using cushions for elevation, and mindfulness techniques.

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

As a writer who suffers from arthritis in my hands, I can't physically type on certain days. So instead of feeling annoyed, I use voice memos or speech-to-text software instead. I also always 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 number 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. But, in my distress, I 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 it 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 if I need to refer to it when I'm not at home.

[Disclaimer: the one 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. When my pain levels are incredibly high, I quickly 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, it's worth keeping in the plan. You never know when you might need it next.

NPS-IE-NP-00438 June 2022