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Background Acute flares in people with osteoarthritis (OA) are poorly understood. There is uncertainty around the nature of flares, their impact, and how these are managed. Aim To explore understandings and experiences of flares in people with knee OA, and to describe self-management and help-seeking strategies. Design & setting Qualitative interview study of people with knee OA in England. Method Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 15 people with knee OA. Thematic analysis was applied using constant comparison methods. Results The following four main themes were identified: experiencing pain; consequences of acute pain; predicting and avoiding acute pain; and response to acute pain. People with OA described minor episodes that were frequent, fleeting, occurred during everyday activity, had minimal impact, and were generally predictable. This contrasted with severe episodes that were infrequent, had greater impact, and were less likely to be predictable. The latter generally led to feelings of low confidence, vulnerability, and of being a burden. The term ‘flare’ was often used to describe the severe events but this was applied inconsistently and some would describe a flare as any increase in pain. Participants used numerous self-management strategies but tended to seek help when these had been exhausted, their symptoms led to emotional distress, disturbed sleep, or pain experience worse than usual. Previous experiences shaped whether people sought help and who they sought help from. Conclusion Severe episodes of pain are likely to be synonymous with flares. Developing a common language about flares will allow a shared understanding of these events, early identification, and appropriate management.

More information Original publication



Journal article




Royal College of General Practitioners

Publication Date



Emma Parry was funded by a National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research GP Progression Fellowship


osteoarthritis, knee arthritis, musculoskeletal, flares, primary health care, qualitative, research