Tips for Pain-Free Travel

Holiday season is upon us. While jet-setting or road-tripping may invoke excitement in many folks, it can also be stressful or painful for people living with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

What steps can you take to manage arthritis pain and stiffness and make your flight more comfortable?

Planning ahead is key

Do a pre-flight workout:

A workout in the pool or 30 minutes of yoga can help loosen joints and ward off the stiffness that can set in when sitting in a plane seat. (Keep in mind this isn’t the time to take up a new activity—only exercise if it’s already a part of your normal weekly routine.

Pay for the extra legroom:

Some airlines offer seats with extra leg room if you have a bad knee to contend with or need extra space for any other reason

If you have an identification card for people with disabilities, bringing it with you in your wallet may be helpful.

Sometimes calling the airline in advance to request early boarding, a wheelchair, or extra legroom is a good idea, too.

How to deal with medications

Traveling with medications or a joint implant can also be stressful at times. But it doesn’t have to be.

If you bring meds in a carry-on bag, be sure they’re in their original prescription bottles, showing your name and the name of the drug. If this isn’t possible, a note from your doctor or a list of the medications and what they’re for is helpful.

If your medication needs to be refrigerated, you should be allowed to bring a cooler or a bag with ice packs on the plane. Be sure to explain to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents that it’s a medication that needs to be kept cold.

The same goes for syringes. Explain that they’re medically necessary and what they’re for.

If you have a knee, hip, or other joint replacement, ask to go through the full-body X-ray machine. If your orthopedic surgeon gave you a card identifying you as a joint replacement recipient, have it handy. However, you won’t need to show it in most cases.

Don’t be embarrassed. TSA agents are used to dealing with people who have joint implants and other medical devices.

Provide support to your joints during the flight

For lower back pain, provide support behind your lower back with a back roll or a pillow. If you use a brace for your affected joint, bring or wear it.

Practice good posture in your seat.

Ideally, your knees and hips should be at 90° angles when you sit. If you do this and your feet don’t comfortably meet the floor, find something to prop them up on. You can ask a flight attendant for pillows and blankets or even use your carry-on as a footrest.

Do exercises while seated.

A few simple seated exercises can help prevent in-flight stiffness:

  • Raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the ground
  • Raise and lower your heels while your toes stay on the ground.
  • Tighten and relax the muscles in your legs.
  • If you have space, lift your foot off the floor and straighten your leg until you feel it in your hamstrings (see illustration above).

    Vacations are nice, but vacations without pain are even better. The reward of travel is usually worth the pain of getting there, but that doesn't mean you can't make trips a little easier and more comfortable with these tips.

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