What Is an Arthritis Flare-Up?

Summit physician assistant Abby Clark, PA-C, explains the term “arthritis flare-up” — and shares what you can do when you experience one.

Arthritis (also known as osteoarthritis) is a common and painful condition that happens when a joint’s cartilage wears away. Without cartilage to cushion the joint and act as a buffer, the bones can rub together. This causes pain, stiffness, and inflammation. It’s a chronic condition that can make everyday activities difficult. But what does it mean to have an arthritis flare-up?

“An arthritis flare-up refers to an acute increase in pain, swelling, and stiffness in an arthritic joint,” said Abby Clark, PA-C, one of Summit’s physician assistants. “It’s a worsening of the chronic symptoms that people generally have.”

During an arthritis flare-up, you have more disability associated with that joint. Your symptoms are worse, and you’re less able to do the things you normally would, whether that’s climbing stairs or playing tennis.

What causes an arthritis flare-up?

An arthritis flare-up can happen after a change in the weather, after an injury, or in response to a change in activity level. “Anytime you’re increasing your activity or doing something new, you could be at risk of having an arthritis flare-up,” Clark said. “Patients sometimes tell me that their joints feel worse after they do a lot of snow shoveling or yard work, for example.”

What can you do ahead of time to reduce your chances of having an arthritis flare-up?

The best thing to do is to be aware of your baseline activity level, so you can prepare yourself if you’re going to be doing more.“ Be cognizant if you’re going to be doing something new,” Clark said. That way, you can take precautions — premedicate before going on a hike, for example.

If your symptoms bother you, come in and see your Summit provider for help. “If it gets really swollen or painful, come to see us for measures to get you through it,” Clark said.

How long does it last?

Arthritis flare-ups can be variable, but they generally last three to five days with conservative care. Home care can include anti-inflammatory medicines, changing activities, and using ice, compression, or bracing.

“If doing those things isn’t helping after a week, come in to see us, and we can help it along,” Clark said. Office-based treatments like joint aspiration and cortisone injections can provide relief from an arthritis flare-up.

Over the long term, it’s smart to keep track of how many flare-ups you’re having. If they are increasing, it might be time to look into injections or surgery. “If you’re having more bad days than good, it’s worth having a discussion about what we can do to fix that,” Clark said. “It’s a quality-of-life issue.”

When to seek treatment for your arthritis

Arthritis doesn’t have to spell the end of an active life. If you are experiencing worrisome symptoms or persistent pain, the renowned arthritis specialists at Summit Orthopedics can help. We work with you to confirm a diagnosis and develop an appropriate conservative treatment plan. If nonsurgical treatments fail to support your lifestyle goals, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons will consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options. Summit is home to innovative joint replacement options. Our Vadnais Heights Surgery Center is one of a select few nationally to receive The Joint Commission’s Advanced Certification for Total Hip and Total Knee Replacement.

Start your journey to healthier joints. Find your arthritis expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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