How I survive a flare-up at work

My body parts are seemingly engaging in an unhelpful relay with the finish line being total skeletal meltdown. This week it’s my back.

I have a couple of ways of getting around my back pain and I’m lucky that it rarely interferes with my life to a huge extent. When it does, here is what helps me navigate the office.

1. I don’t go to work

I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home every now and again because of my joint pain. At first, I was slightly embarrassed about taking up the offer, now I have no problem about doing so whenever I need to. Apart from having instant access to both painkillers and chocolate (equally important to physical and mental recovery), it means that I have all my physiotherapy equipment and a hot water bottle handy. I’m not tied to my desk, so can work on the sofa / in bed if needed and I can take regular breaks to stretch or walk.  It also means that I don’t have to exhaust myself  getting to work, conserving as much energy as possible for, you know, actual work.

Most significantly, it means I finish work and am at home before the rest of my flatmates, and get first dibs on telly.

2. I don’t go to work at a time where people will tread on me on the tube

I didn’t realise how many times people banged into me on my daily commute, until I did it in a flare-up. The slightest brush when I’m in pain can feel like a barge from, well a barge. Doing my first hour of work from home means that I get a seat on the train and a bit more personal space on the journey from the station to the office.

It also means I have the hour it takes for my painkillers to set in at home, with easy access to aforementioned hot water bottle and stretching.

3. I move regularly

Movement can mean many different things depending on my situation and location. If I’m in the office, I make sure I get up at least once an hour, whether it be to get water or coffee, or to surreptitiously slide away from an approaching colleague, who almost certainly will contribute to my ever-growing workload.

If I’m at home, I’m much more free to stretch on my own time, but I do less organic movement (no meetings, walking to the coffee bar, stairs etc). I try to make sure to stretch more regularly, and ensure I get a bit of a walk at lunch if the rest of my body is up to it.

4. I try to take care of the basics

I hate taking painkillers regularly, but in flare-ups I’m much better when I do. Anti-inflammatories are also much more effective when taken daily, a fact from my Doctor that I have tried so hard to ignore. If it makes the pain bearable, it’s worth it.

I make sure I eat as well as I can (chocolate excepted) and, in the first couple of weeks of the month, will treat myself to a posh healthy(ish) lunch if I’m not up to making my own. In the second few weeks, it’s toast regardless of context. Except if I’m feeling a bit flashy, then I might stretch to some cous cous.

A calming playlist / happy distracty playlist / S Club 7- centric playlist (dire situations only) on my iPod / Spotify (for the technologically sound) helps me to relax and take my mind off the pain.

I’ve been having issues with hypermobility for 5 years, and arthritis for just over 2. I’m only just starting to give in to my fatigue and realise that life is a lot easier when I sleep and rest. I’m not great at the former and it’s by no means a guarantee, but I do space out my activities a bit, and make sure that I’m spending adequate time doing nothing. Netflix and sleep is practically the same thing anyway.

5. I’m learning to give into it when I need to

Long flare-ups can be horrendous. The mental and physical toll they take on your body are impossible to imagine if you’ve never dealt with chronic pain. I’m learning to recognise when I need to give in and go home. I’m also very lucky in that I’m not remotely important at work (having gone to great lengths to make myself dispensable), so nothing ever needs to be done in 24 hours.

6. I try to remember that it will pass

Although it quite often feels like it won’t.

Looking after yourself in flare-ups is important, but very personal. S Club 7 and chocolate are not medically approved treatments,  and if you’re a lactose intolerant metal lover, I’d suggest you consider alternatives. Self-care is at the root of coping with these flare-ups well, and as we learn what it means for us, we are better able to cater to ourselves and our individual conditions. I’m still very much at the early stages of what this means for me, so any suggestions about what helps would be greatly appreciated.

In the meantime, I’m taking care of my back until it passes the baton to another semi-functioning limb.

Becky x


Author: Becky

Semi-successful walker, music lover, Ribena enthusiast.

6 thoughts

  1. Great advice! I really wish I could work from home. I remember when I was travelling in to work during a flare I nearly cried when someone knocked my knee with their bag.


    1. Thank you! I’m really sorry to hear that 😦 What can seem so inconsequential to one person can cause so much pain for another. Someone bumped into my bad hip the other day; it wasn’t hard but I was in pain all morning… I’m definitely trying to be as careful as I can when navigating the tube, so I don’t accidentally do it to someone else, but with all the crowds it’s tough.


  2. Thank you for sharing!! I agree, chocolate is the best comfort food for flare-ups. And it’s so great your office allows you to work from home as needed. Empathy from employers is so key. I’ve found that periodic support from a back brace helps, though I’ve heard doctors argue against the use of a brace. When things are bad for me, I find it gives me enough relief to move about as needed.



    1. Empathy from employers really makes a difference, and having experienced a non-sympathetic boss, I appreciate I’m extremely lucky! That’s interesting, I’ve never tried a back brace, I may give it a shot. If it helps you manage your condition then go for it!



  3. We just now got the right to start working from home at my office. I’m not really set up yet to where I feel productive there, but we’re going to try and get a new desk and clear an area so that I can. Then I’ll have to get over the weird feeling about doing it…


    1. It definitely takes some getting used to (and the temptation to stay in PJs all day is real). A proper work space would be great though! I hope it helps and good luck 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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