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8 Ways to Help You Travel Easier With Your Arthritis

Tips on Controlling Your Arthritis

Carol Page, PT, DPT, CHT
Rehabilitation Department
Hospital for Special Surgery

Do you worry about arthritis spoiling your vacation or business trip? What to take with you, what you do en route, and how you settle in to your vacation digs can have a big impact on whether you have joint trouble on a trip. Try these travel-smart tips.

  1. Pack your medications first - in labeled containers that go in your carry-on luggage. And take an extra copy of your prescriptions with you in case your medications get lost. Nothing can spoil your trip worse than not having your medications at hand.
  2. Get a suitcase with wheels or use a wheeled luggage cart. Try to get a model that you can push rather than pull. Pushing (preferably with two hands) places the load squarely in front of you. This helps to conserve energy and avoid the joint-twisting strain of pulling with one hand. Models that are designed for pulling can usually be pushed if the handle locks in an upright position.
  3. Don't over-pack nor over-lift. Even though your suitcase is on wheels, there are all too many occasions when you will have to lift it - onto the X-ray platform, into the overhead bin, etc. When those occasions arise, don't be shy about asking someone else to do the lifting - preferably someone else in a uniform whose job it is to help but if someone like that is not available, just someone who looks strong. People are more willing to help than you might think.
  4. Don't sit for hours at a time in a plane, bus, or car. Standing and walking for even two minutes every hour can make a huge difference in how you feel when you arrive. On planes and buses, try to get an aisle seat, which makes it easier to regularly stretch your arms and legs as well as stand up and walk around. If you're driving, allow time for hourly five-minute stops.
  5. Sit way back, making sure your rear end touches the seat back. Slouching leads to back pain, whether or not you have arthritis. If you're short and stuck in a deep seat, stick something behind you for comfortable back support - a pillow, folded airplane blanket, or your own coat or sweater.
  6. Try a bath at the end of the day. When hours of sightseeing or shopping have left you tired and achy, a deep, soothing soak can relax and revive you. If you have osteoarthritis, ease into a moderately hot bath. But for inflammatory types such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you may want a cool bath or simply want to put cool compresses on "hot" complaining joints. You can buy cold packs that will chill in the hotel mini bar.
  7. Pack a plug-in night-light. In unfamiliar surroundings, it can help prevent stumbles or falls. If you forget to bring one along, just leave the bathroom light on when you go to bed.
  8. Pack a small "emergency" kit in your carry-on bag. Your own levels of concern and where you're going will determine what you pack. But at the least it should include: bottled water to take your medicine; one meal's worth of calories, such as from a health-food bar; a flashlight; in winter, a kevlar blanket, available online or at hardware stores.

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