Coping with a flare up of chronic pain

A flare up of chronic pain is a period of time where the pain increases and can become more difficult to cope with.

Many people feel able to cope with their day to day activities if the pain stays the same. During a flare up it might feel like the pain is overwhelming. People often say they feel a sense of helplessness.

Flare ups are a normal part of chronic pain. They’re not necessarily a sign that things are getting worse.

What causes a flare up of chronic pain?

Sometimes a flare up of chronic pain might be caused by:

  • overactivity or underactivity
  • stress or worry
  • low mood and depression

Sometimes there isn’t an obvious cause for a flare up of chronic pain

Watch this video to hear more about chronic pain flare ups.

How to manage a flare-up of chronic pain

There are some things you can do to help manage a flare up of chronic pain.

You need to be kind to yourself during a flare-up – you didn’t choose this. Caring for yourself and slowing down a little will help you get past the flare-up quicker.

Be prepared for a flare up of chronic pain

By having an action plan for when your chronic pain flares up, you can feel more prepared and ready to cope.

There are some things you can consider as part of your action plan:

  • increase relaxation and mindfulness activities
  • prioritise your tasks
  • cut back on physical activities but do not stop altogether – some activity is better than no activity
  • acknowledge that although you may feel bad just now, the pain will pass
  • do what you can to soothe the pain like taking a warm bath or using a heat pad

You might be able to adjust your medication during a flare up. Discuss this with your doctor or healthcare professional in advance so you’re prepared.

Keep an activity diary

You can use an activity diary to track what you’re doing for a few weeks. We often do more or less than we think. An activity diary can help to identify possible causes of a flare up of chronic pain. It can also help you to identify when you might be trying to do too much during a flare up.

Pace yourself during a flare up of chronic pain

Pacing encourages you to choose when to take a break from an activity before pain, tiredness or other symptoms become too much. Pacing your activities during a flare up helps prevent overactivity or underactivity.

Continuing to use your pacing strategies can help to prevent future flare ups.

Manage your stress

Stress can make pain worse, so it’s important to learn how to manage it. At the same time, pain itself can make you feel stressed and anxious, creating a vicious cycle.

Learning relaxation skills can help you to break this cycle, and manage both stress and pain in a way that works for you.

We have a number of breathing and relaxation exercises on NHS inform that can help with anxiety and stress.

Breathing and relaxation exercises for stress


Chronic pain can cause a lot of problems with sleep. You might find it hard to get to sleep, or wake up during the night because of pain. Unfortunately, the more you try to force yourself to sleep the harder it can become.

Lack of sleep and struggling to sleep can also increase your stress levels, making the pain worse.

Use our self-help guide for sleep problems and insomnia to help you deal with these issues.

Sleep problems and insomnia self-help guide

Getting a good night’s sleep – Pain Concern


Chronic pain can cause you to lose your confidence and make it hard for you to express your needs. If you can’t say what you need, you may find yourself dealing with more pain and discomfort. This can make you feel more tense, and tension can increase your pain.

Follow these tips to help you become more assertive and confident about communicating:

  • say what you mean clearly and don’t be afraid to be firm
  • try not to shout or raise your voice
  • remember you don’t have to apologise for needing something
  • make sure your message is clear – don’t expect people to guess what you mean or know what you’re thinking
  • explain to people why you’re asking them to do something
  • ask for help when you need it
  • remember it’s okay to say no

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Source: NHS Scotland - Opens in new browser window

Last updated:
18 October 2023