Flying and traveling with Rheumatoid Arthritis can be stressful, especially when you're about to board a long-haul flight.
While most arthritis sufferers do not experience any increased pain while flying, some of them report pain and symptoms worsening. Joint pain can indeed be aggravated by changes in air pressure and sitting in the same position for a long time.
Managing arthritis pain on an airplane requires a bit of knowledge and preparation. But there are ways to limit the impacts of flying on your joints' health and enjoy a painless trip to your destination!
Related article: 8 Great Tips for Traveling with Psoriatic or Rheumatoid Arthritis
Pre-departure Tips for Flying with Arthritis
Traveling with Rheumatoid arthritis like with any other chronic health condition requires a bit of pre-planning and organization. Before departure, make sure you've checked all the following points:
Talk to your doctor before departure
It’s always a good practice to book a doctor’s appointment before traveling with a chronic health condition like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Osteoarthritis. Let your doctor know about your trip and ask for advice on how to manage the pain while away from home.
He or she can also run a medical check to make sure you’re fit to travel. Your healthcare provider will also make sure you have enough medication for the entire duration of your trip and provide you with all the necessary documentation to travel locally or internationally with your drugs.
Book special assistance from your airline company
Most airline companies have special assistance options for people living with chronic health conditions such as arthritis. It’s even an obligation for them. When you’re about to book your flight ticket, you can ask for special assistance such as a wheelchair, the use of special transport at the airport, or the help of an attendant to carry your luggage.
You may also be given the right to an early boarding so you don’t have to wait in line for too long.
Pay for extra leg room
All airline companies offer the possibility to book extra leg room for the flight. It comes with extra cost of course, but if you can afford it, you won’t regret it.
Staying in the same position for a long time can cause your joints to stiffen, which increases arthritis pain. Extra leg room allows you to keep your legs moving and stretching even when you’re sitting. If you can't pay for the additional fee of extra leg room, you may book an aisle seat. If you ask for it early enough, it may even come at no extra cost at all.
Make sure your travel insurance covers you
Travel insurance companies often insert tiny clauses at the end of their contracts to exclude the coverage of any incident that would be directly or indirectly related to an undeclared pre-existing medical condition. Rheumatoid arthritis and any other kind of arthritis do fall in the category of so-called "pre-existing conditions".
Before departure, call your insurance provider and make sure you’re covered for any health incident that could occur while abroad.
Related article: Rheumatoid arthritis travel insurance: How to make sure you’re covered?
Buy lightweight rolling luggage
Carrying heavy loads puts unnecessary stress on your joints and often causes Arthritis pain and symptoms to worsen. Using lightweight luggage is highly recommended. And it's even better if it has 360 rotating wheels so you can push it or pull it instead of lifting it.
If you have trouble or pain carrying your luggage at the airport, do not hesitate to ask for help from the airline company, the airport workers, or any passengers who look nice and helpful!
Pack your pain killers in your carry on
You’re allowed to carry your medication on the plane. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules about flying with medications are pretty straightforward. When flying with arthritis, you never know when the pain will strike. Make sure you always have quick access to your usual pain killers.
Managing Arthritis at the Airport and on Long-haul Flights
Long-haul flights involve sitting and staying still for prolonged periods of time, which can trigger joint pain for people living with arthritis. Fortunately, you can limit the impacts of flying by observing these simple pieces of advice and a few good practices:
Show up at the airport early
Showing up at the airport early can help you manage stress better. Don't forget that your stress level may have a big impact on your pain level. Anything you can do to feel more relaxed will help you through a smooth and painless flight.
Extra time at the airport also allows you to talk with the airline company and flight attendants. Inform them about your health condition and worries. They may be able to provide you with assistance.
Stretch before boarding
Pre-boarding gentle workout can help you enjoy a painless long-haul flight even when you have arthritis. It helps reduce stiffness and loosen the joints and may help prevent the pain from showing up while you're in the air. Do some light stretching or your habitual easy exercises in the boarding room.
Keep moving while on the plane
Sitting up for too long is proven to cause joint pain, and even more so if you have rheumatoid arthritis. While a one-hour short flight may have no consequences, long-haul flights can be a nightmare if you stay in the same position all the time.
During the flight, get up as often as possible to walk around the aisle and stretch your legs. While on your seat, you may also do some seated exercises with your toes and leg muscles that can help prevent joint pain.
Use ice or heat therapy
Both ice and heat therapies have proven to work great on joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. The heat helps relax the muscles and lubricate the joints while the cold can reduce the inflammation and work as a natural analgesic (pain killer).
Ice packs and heating pads are easy to pack and most of them are allowed on the plane, especially if required for medical purposes. If your arthritis pain increases during the flight, don't hesitate to use them. Some people find alternating heat and cold therapies works better than using one of them only.
Keep your medication cool on the plane
If you’re using arthritis injectable biologic medications like Humira, Enbrel, Actemra, Simponi, Orencia, Cimzia, or others, you must be vigilant and keep them at the right storage temperature during the flight. Most of them would deteriorate and lose efficiency if not kept at fridge temperature or at least at room temperature
Medical-grade travel coolers like the ones from 4AllFamily are allowed on the plane and officially approved by the TSA. They are specially designed for travelers with chronic health conditions who need to keep their medications cool.
4AllFamily has designed different cooling solutions that suit every traveler’s needs. Whether you’re a backpacker, a business worker, or a hotel roomer, there’s a medical cooler for you! Check them out right here.
Related article: How to travel with refrigerated medication?
Related article: How to travel with injectable medicines?