Beyond the exacerbation of pain in describing a flare in osteoarthritis (OA), patients and health professionals add other elements that deserve to be fully elucidated, such as effusion, swelling, and mobility limitation. To define and conceptualize the construct flare in OA, the objective was to identify the key variables, or symptoms, that worsen, and to clarify how these variables are described in the literature by patients and clinicians.A systematic review of the literature was conducted in Medline and PsychINFO. In brief, the search terms used were "osteoarthritis," "knee," "hip," and "flare." Specific characteristics of included studies were identified, including the type of study design, type of flare assessed, how the flare developed, and what definition of flare was used, including whether the definition was based on qualitative or quantitative analysis.Pain was the major factor in the definition of flare within these studies. Four components of flare were identified: pain, other factors, composite criteria, and global assessment. While the majority of studies reported flare as an increase in pain using standardized outcome measures, only 1 study reported the antecedents and consequences of a pain flare using qualitative methods.The use of flare as an outcome or inclusion criterion in rheumatology trials is a common occurrence; however, this review highlights the wide variation in the definitions of OA flare currently in use and the emphasis on the measurement of pain. This variation in definition does not allow for direct comparison between trials and limits interpretation of evidence.