Long trips can be stressful, especially when you have a health condition such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Long periods of sitting on long flights can exacerbate joint stiffness and pain, while other factors such as stress and lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to congestion.
Long trips can be challenging, but a little planning can help reduce your discomfort. In this article, we offer tips that can help you manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms during long trips and while traveling.
Flying comes with physical, psychological, and logistical challenges that can make controlling arthritis difficult.
The nonprofit Creaky Joints surveyed nearly 1,000 people with arthritis and found that 63 percent said they took less time off because of their illness.
Some of the challenges you may face during long trips include:
- prolonged sitting Long periods of inactivity can increase pain and swelling in affected joints.
- increased tension; Travel stress can lead to fires.
- Lack of sleep. Long flights often mean poor sleep quality, which is a risk factor for flare-ups.
- physical exertion Excessive walking, pulling heavy luggage, and carrying bags can tire yourself out, which is another risk factor for flare-ups.
- pressure changes. Changes in temperature and pressure while flying and traveling can aggravate the joints of some people.
- medication problems. Missing medications, forgetting to bring medications, or improperly storing sensitive medications can make managing your condition more difficult.
Despite the difficulties, most people with rheumatoid arthritis are still able to travel successfully.
Here are 12 ways you can make flying more comfortable.
1. Break up the sitting
Sitting for a long time can make your joints stiff and painful. Getting up every two hours or more frequently may help relieve these symptoms.
Getting up frequently can also help prevent a blood clot in your legs called deep vein thrombosis. People with RA are thought to be more likely to develop DVT than the general population.
2. Reserve an aisle seat or pay for extra legroom
Reserving an aisle seat makes it easy to get out of your seat frequently since you don’t have to ask people around you to move.
Alternatively, most airlines give you the option to reserve an extra legroom seat for a fee.
3. Bring your medicines in your hand luggage
It is a good idea to bring your medicines in your carry-on baggage. This gives you easy access to them. Changes in temperature and pressure in the cabin baggage can also damage sensitive medicines such as biologics.
Taking pain relievers, such as Advil or Tylenol, or prescription medications, can help if you have joint pain.
Make sure your medicines are clearly labeled and in their original prescription bottles. If it cannot be carried in its original packaging, it is a good idea to carry the medication with a doctor’s note.
4. Pack the medicine in multiple bags
Dividing your medication among multiple bags can help make sure you have stock on hand in case you lose one of your bags.
5. Arrive at the airport early
Being at the airport early can help make your flight less stressful, especially if the lines are longer than expected. Showing up early also gives you more time to let the airline know if you have any special accessibility needs.
6. Bring coolant for biology
Some types of biopharmaceuticals must be kept cool. You can bring a cooler to store in your handbag. Alternatively, you can bring a small resealable bag that you can fill with ice on the plane.
7. Special Help Book
Airlines are required to provide services to assist passengers who request assistance. It is best to book a private assistance when purchasing your ticket. You can request a wheelchair and you can use the private transportation at the airport.
It is a good idea to arrive at least an hour before the proposed appointment if you need special assistance.
8. Carry healthy snacks
Nutritious foods can be hard to find or expensive at airports. Eating nutritious snacks can help you reduce the amount of irritating or inflammatory foods you eat while traveling. Read about healthy snack ideas here.
9. Try heat or ice
Applying heat or ice to the affected joints may provide some relief on the fly. You can bring a hand heater containing carbon, charcoal or iron compounds on the plane as a heat source. You can also bring resealable bags for ice.
10. Book an appointment with your doctor in advance
It is important to tell your doctor before you go on a long trip. They can help you make sure you have enough medication for your flight and give you specific advice on how to relieve your symptoms while flying.
You may need a doctor’s note to get some injectable medications through the safe.
11. Do a light exercise or stretch beforehand
Doing some gentle stretching or easy exercises before flying can help reduce stiffness while on the plane. It’s best to stick with exercises you know.
12. Look for direct flights when possible
Booking a direct flight can save you the stress and extra walking of having to change planes. If you have to book a flight with a layover, make sure you have plenty of time to move between the gates.
Here are some additional tips that may help make travel more comfortable.
- Work with your doctor to control symptoms.
- Pack a copy of your doctor’s contact information.
- Pack a copy of your prescription.
- Check to see if any vaccinations you need interfere with your medications.
- Be sure to pack any medical devices or aids you may need.
- Pack a copy of your medical record in case of an emergency.
- Be sure to bring your insurance information.
- Find destinations, like all-inclusive resorts, that give you easy access to everything you need.
- Choose places with good local transportation options.
- Choose foods for which you do not know what causes seizures.
- Make sure you know where the nearest hospital and pharmacy are.
- Consider the climate where you are traveling and how it will affect you.
- Consider booking your flight at off-peak times to avoid crowds.
- Consider going to the supermarket to buy nutritious foods.
- Some rheumatoid arthritis medications can cause sensitivity to the sun, so be sure to wear sunscreen and avoid too much time in direct sunlight.
- Stay hydrated to help support your joints and reduce fatigue.
- Travel with luggage on wheels and a handle that makes it easy to move.
- Keep track of time zones and make sure you take your medications at the right times.
- If you have medications that need to be kept cold, find a room with a refrigerator or call ahead to see if the hotel has a refrigerator in which you can leave the medication.
- Ask for a room near the lift or on a lower floor.
- Consider booking a hotel with a spa, pool, or exercise area to help keep your joints separated.
Flying with rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult, but taking steps to prepare can make your trip easier. For example, getting out of your chair regularly to walk around can help relieve joint stiffness, and making sure you have medication on hand can help reduce pain.
It’s a good idea to let your doctor know in advance when you’re planning a long trip. They can make sure you get all the medication you need and give you specific advice on how to reduce your symptoms while traveling.