The thing to understand about inflammatory arthritis pain is that it’s always there. It’s not like muscle pain that happens when you use the muscle, or a broken bone that hurts when you use the limb. Arthritis pain is constant. There’s no comfy position to get into so that it doesn’t hurt.
I have pain every day. Sometimes it’s mild, sometimes not so much. No matter what, I try to put a smile on my face and deal with it. Why? Because there isn’t really a choice.
To some people, I would be in a permanent flare. I don’t really look at it that way. I think most people with RA have a baseline level of pain. For some, this is pain free. For some, this is mild, occasional aches. For some, this is daily aches and pains, from mild to moderate to severe.
Severe pain all day every day is what I would call perma-flare, and there are people who are forced to go through life this way.
My baseline is mild to moderate daily pain in various joints. Usually not all at once, and the worst affected joints move around. Some days it’s my hands and feet, some days it’s my neck and hips, some days my lower back.
Today it’s my ribs and my jaw that are giving me the most trouble.
Yesterday it was my hands and feet – ‘classic’ rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Tomorrow, who knows?
And then there are flares. Full body mega flares I call them.
So what does a rheumatoid arthritis flare feel like?
Rheumatoid Arthritis guy put it like this:
Imagine having all your joints slowly pulled apart. Now, imagine not having to imagine it. This is rheumatoid arthritis. —RA Guy
I think that sounds pretty accurate.
Flares hurt a lot.
For me there is dull but strong pain in my wrists and ankles. My lower back feels like someone is twisting a knife in it. My knees ache, and then suddenly feel like someone has stabbed a screwdriver into them. My ribs squeeze my lungs, so that it’s hard to breathe. It feels like maybe I’m having a heart attack, or someone is crushing my chest. There is no way to sit, no way to lie down, there is no position that eases the rib pain. There is no way I can wear a bra!
Knowing that it is my ribs (costochondritis) helps with the anxiety. I know I’m NOT having a heart attack, no matter how bad if feels. It’s just pain. Empty, pointless pain.
My jaw is throbs (TMJ disorder). It feels like the worst earache ever. But my ears have been checked…there is no infection. It’s referred pain from the jaw. I have a constant headache radiating up from my jaw. Opening my mouth hurts. Closing again it hurts. Chewing is not an option. Not that I have an appetite anyway. People tell me I slur my words…that’s because I am trying to move my jaw as little as possible. Smiling hurts. I try to smile anyway. I may as well.
Sometimes out of the blue my big toes will just explode. Big toe…hahahaha…how bad can that be? Yeah, pretty bad! It is searing pain that will stop you dead in your tracks. Not so funny. Your big toe helps with your balance and takes about 40% of the weight of all the toes. It’s pretty important. When it’s flaring, if it doesn’t make you scream aloud, it sure makes you walk funny.
And now onto my hips. Again, there is no way to lie, no way to sit…hips, lower back, it all merges together. The tendons also become inflamed (enthesitis), so moving hurts more.
My shoulders ache…it feels like there are lead weights on them. Some days I can’t raise my arm very high. Some days I can, but its excruciating. Some days it just hurts a bit. Because my shoulders are inflamed, out of alignment…something…the muscles all down my back spasm. Massage helps temporarily. Some days it hurts too much to be touched.
Then there are my eyes. I often wake up with red, raw, dry, painful eyes. Sometimes I have to sit in a darkened room until it subsides. This is most probably iritis (anterior uveitis).
Inflammatory arthritis pain is constant. It doesn’t quit. It wears you down. I think the constant pain is the cause most of the fatigue I experience…most of my brain is trying to block out severe pain and keep functioning. That’s exhausting.
So what can be done? Prednisone burst. Heat packs. Topical creams and gels. Hot showers. Extra nsaids, analgesics. Rest.
A true full body mega flare? Nothing, really, can be done. Nothing touches it. You just have to hope it doesn’t last long. Mine are improving. Lately they only last 24 hours or so. Recently they were lasting 4 days or so. The longest one lasted 4 months. This is child’s play to what I’ve read some people experience. Some people are in full body mega flare all the time.
I don’t know how they cope. They have to, I guess. Because there isn’t really a choice.