Do you know what sets off your pain into a flare up? We call these triggers, and they can be different for everyone.
Knowing your triggers can be particularly helpful if you have a pain condition that has a flare/settle cycle, because it can help you avoid triggering things or situations, or help you prepare for an oncoming flare.
We often see people who don’t know what their triggers are. This can be a pretty scary situation for them, because their pain seems random and uncontrollable, but for most people there are at least some consistent triggers for their pain and with a little investigation we can usually pin down some of the big ones.
Some of the most common triggers include:
Stress – Of course! Stress and demands pulling in every direction is bad enough when you don’t have pain, but this is one of the really big triggers for setting off bad pain flares.
Over doing it – Pushing yourself too hard is probably one of the most common triggers for an increase in pain. This can look like lifting something heavier than you’re capable of, walking further than you normally can, rushing around doing more errands than usual. The trap is usually that you have a day where you actually feel pretty good and capable, so you do as much as you can while you're feeling good and then - bam! On comes the flare from over doing it!
Change in air pressure – Theres not a lot of great research on this, but I can tell you from clinical experience there are a huge number of people who get pain flares when the weather changes, particularly if a storm is about to roll in. Headaches, migraines, joint pain, nausea, nerve pain – these can all flare if the air pressure changes suddenly. Sometimes people affected by this trigger can tell its going to rain hours before it starts because they start to feel those symptoms.
Temperature – Sudden changes of temperature can also flare up some pains. This usually happens in the peak of summer or winter, especially if you go from a cool air conditioned space into the Melbourne heat wave, or getting out of your warm car into the cold air of a single digit day.
Medication – Changes to medication or forgetting to take medication can set off a pain flare up. If its from changes to medication, make sure that you note it down and let your GP know when you see them next.
Sleep – Usually it’s a lack of sleep that causes the pain to increase. Sleep deprivation can lead to feeling run down, slowed thought processes, memory issues, low mood, and can increase sensitivity to pain. I recently wrote a blog with some general tips for aiding your sleep cycle, which you can read here.
Illness and infection – Picking up a cold or virus that’s going around can certainly flare up existing pain conditions. Your body uses a lot of extra resources when it needs to fight off illness or infection, so this can be particularly involved for people who already have weakened immune systems.
Certain movements – Sometimes your pain can be increased by specific movements, like shoulder pain that hurts more if you reach overhead. As Myotherapists, we can help you identify the specific movements that are responsible, and create a treatment plan that addresses those areas so we can get you moving better and with less pain.
Food – Food allergies or sensitivities are very common, and some of these can trigger pain and inflammation. Common ones can be things like gluten, sugar, and processed foods. A Nutritionist like our friend Samantha Gemmell can help you identify foods that may be causing you to have flare ups and help you plan some alternatives.
Chemicals – Sensitivity to chemicals can also increase pain. Consider the types of dish liquid, washing powder and cleaning chemicals you use at home. If you consistently get flare ups after using these, it may be time to try alternative products and see if it makes a difference.
Body products – Similar to chemicals for cleaning your house, the products you use on your body can also trigger pain in some people. This can include body wash, hair care, skin care and make up, deodorants and dental products.
These are just some of the common things that we see. We always recommend that you keep a good eye out and become a little investigator into your own triggers. Sometimes a trigger or symptom journal can help in identifying the things that are setting you off. If you want to do this, we suggest you start by taking note each time you experience a flare up and jot down anything you have done, eaten, interacted with around the time of the flare up. This will help you start to notice patterns that your pain follows.
Some things will be easier to avoid than others – for example, not eating gluten will be much easier to do than not being exposed to air pressure. But for things like weather that are out of your control, you can make a mitigation plan by checking the Bureau of Meteorology and planning to be somewhere comfortable and safe if a major storm is predicted.
We can also help you identify some of these triggers and help you make plans for your triggers. Talk to us about this at your next appointment so that we can support you.
Mel is a Myotherapist based in Ferntree Gully.