Tips for Traveling with Arthritis

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It’s difficult for anyone to stay in one place, and frankly, not very healthy for the mind or body. Travel is not only necessary to handle the daily responsibilities of modern life, it’s also one of life’s greatest pleasures: seeing new places is invigorating, and getting there is half the fun.

Unless, of course, you’re traveling with arthritis and you struggle with the joint pain, stiffness and fatigue. When your mobility is under attack, travel can be a nightmare, an inconvenience that can keep you inside and dependent on others.

Instead of letting your arthritis decide where you go, find ways to compensate for your limitations, and lean on the resources around you to make the journey much more enjoyable.

Getting Around Safely and Easily

When your joints are inflamed, you likely make some adjustments to how you walk, reach, and perform all of your everyday tasks. But when you’re in a car, bus, train, or plane, it’s not so easy to modify your movements when you need to. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to take some pressure off your joints:

Make Driving Easier

If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a superb transportation network, you may be able to get by without a car. However, if you rely on your own set of wheels to tackle your daily errands and stay on schedule, you can make a few adjustments for happier joints.

Whether you have a car or are looking to buy one, meet with an occupational therapist to get some insight. They will be able to assess your car relative to your arthritis needs, and may recommend a few assistive devices or mobility aids, like:

  • More hand controls on the steering wheel and dash instead of under or beside the seats
  • Swapping your conventional driver’s seat for a swivel seat
  • Wrist braces or padded gloves for easier gripping and shifting

Take Time for Rests

Sitting in one position for a long time is never very comfortable, but when you have arthritis it can be a recipe for pain and stiffness. If you’re planning a road trip, be sure to plug several rest stops into your itinerary, and use the time to walk around and gently stretch out your arms and legs.

Sometimes there’s just no way to get out and move around, and that’s when isometric exercises come in handy. Whether you’re stuck in traffic, sitting on a crowded bus, or confined to your airplane seat, try flexing a particular muscle and holding it for about five seconds before relaxing. This will stimulate circulation and ward off stiffness.

Pack a Comfort Kit

It’s always a good idea to keep a first aid kit in the car, but how about a kit for your arthritis pain? You can put together a pouch of painkillers, instant heat or cooling packs, and back-ups of any prescribed medication in case you are away from your medicine cabinet for longer than you had planned.

If your hips tend to get tight or sore, keep an extra seat cushion or pillow in the back. You may also want to invest in a beaded seat cover or orthopedic cushion to support your back and fine-tune your posture.

Planning a Joint-Friendly Holiday

There’s no reason to opt out of an exciting vacation just because your joints are giving you trouble. After all, seeing new places is engaging and uplifting, and a spell on a beach is a great way to rest and regenerate your body. In fact, a vacation could be just what the doctor ordered.

Of course, it’s important to be pragmatic when you plan your holiday, especially if your arthritis is flaring up. Take some smart precautions and make some preparations for smoother travel and a comfortable stay.

Fly Direct

Direct flights can be more expensive than those with layovers, and they don’t always leave at the most convenient times. However, a direct flight is well worth the extra time and expense when you have physical limitations. After all, the less you have to embark, disembark, and navigate your way through airports, the less taxing it will be for your body and mind.

If you can’t find a direct flight, take a close look at the itinerary and get familiar with the layout of the airport on their website. Changing terminals can be a real pain, and if you’re tight for time, you’ll want to know how to do so easily and efficiently.

Consider the Layout of the Resort

Most people make a close comparison of amenities and guest reviews before they decide on a resort, but there’s more to think about than the quality of the food and proximity to the beach. The way the resort is designed can really make or break your holiday when you have arthritis limitations.

Even if you’re not using a wheelchair, a highly accessible resort is your best choice. Ramps eliminate steps, which will save your knees, and the closer the facilities are to each other the less you’ll have to trek around for a drink, towel, or other such necessities. If there’s a sauna or hot tub in the main area, that’s a bonus — you can take advantage of the relaxing heat to loosen up sore joints.

Work With a Travel Agent

Travel agencies may seem like a thing of the past, but trained travel agents can be incredibly useful when you have special arrangements to consider. These are people who can answer all your questions, but will also think of some important things you haven’t considered.

For instance, if you think you may need a wheelchair to get to and from your flight, they will know the procedure for reserving one or registering your own. Are you wondering what to expect at your resort? They may have been there personally, or at least will know more details than the website offers. Having someone take care of all the little details — and reassure you with their experience and sound advice — will save you a lot of stress and worry.

If you’re traveling by train, coach or bus, there may not be as many measures in place for those with accessibility issues. Check ahead of time whether the steps will be easy to navigate, how much space you’ll have at your seat, and if they’ll be able to refrigerate your medication if need be. Staff will definitely appreciate the advance warning, especially when there’s a lot of other passengers on board.

Sources

Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (How to Travel with Arthritis)

Arthritis Foundation (8 Tips for Pain-free Travel)

UW Medicine (Travel and Arthritis)

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