Joint pain can be an unwelcome disruption to many parts of life, including travel. Patients who suffer from different types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis, may feel that their symptoms discourage them from taking a vacation or exploring new places.

If you or a loved one has arthritis, you’ll understand why travel logistics are more than just an inconvenience. In fact, the cramped quarters and extended trips that can be expected are anything but ideal.

“I’ve worked as a physical therapist and that really shapes the way that I think about the musculoskeletal system. It allows me to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from non-operative management. Arthritis is a wearing away of the smooth-surface cartilage at the end of a joint, and when that’s gone, it’s gone. With a very rare exception, you don’t want to undergo an arthroscopic (minimally invasive) surgery to treat arthritis. When the time comes, really, those are joint replacement operations.” 

5 Travel Tips for Arthritis Patients

Your disease shouldn’t keep you from experiencing the joys of travel. And a bit of planning ahead can help to ensure that any trip – big or small – goes smoothly.

1. Make time to move.

Whether it’s a 90-minute road trip or six-hour connecting flight, it’s a good idea to get up and stretch at least once every hour.

  • If you’re traveling by car, pull off to the side of the road, or plan ahead by identifying rest stops along the way
  • Experts agree that just standing up in the aisle during a long flight, or taking a walk to the bathroom every hour can reduce stiffness and prevent blood clots

2. Your luggage should do the work for you.

Not only should your suitcase have wheels, but ideally, the type of wheels that fully rotate, in order to prevent mobility issues.

  • Paying extra fees to check baggage rather than dragging it around with you might just be worth it
  • If you’re traveling with a carry-on item, a backpack distributes weight more evenly than a handbag or laptop case would

3. Prepare for the security checkpoint.

If your trip involves air travel, take some time in a quiet corner to gather yourself and your belongings, before entering the line for airport security.

  • Make sure any items that require an extra scan, like electronics and travel-sized liquids, are within reach
  • Walk through security with your form of identification in hand

4. Bring along any assistive devices.

Regardless of intermittent stretching, arthritic patients may still complain of physical discomfort or flare-ups that they have to endure during travel.

  • Be a smart traveler by reviewing seating options with extra leg room
  • Consider items that may be comforting to you: neck pillows, retractable canes, heating pads, beaded seat covers

5. Don’t pack your medication away.

Whether it’s a travel day or you’ve reached your destination, keep your medication close by.

  • Speak with your doctor before traveling about keeping an extra dosage on-hand should you need it
  • If you’re checking bags, make sure your prescription is kept in a carry-on

Try using some of these tips to help manage the symptoms of arthritis while traveling. Speaking with an orthopedic specialist before your trip might also help you determine the best ways to avoid flare-ups, based on your condition.


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