We all need a vacation. But traveling with chronic health conditions like arthritis can be challenging. Not only do travels involve more stress but being away from home and changing your habits may also worsen joint inflammation and arthritis symptoms.
About 1 out of 3 people suffering from arthritis say they take fewer vacations and limit their travels because of their condition.
So, how to combine relaxing travels and arthritis? Whether you love visiting your friends and family across the country or flying to exotic destinations, arthritis should not step in the way. It's important you still do what you love and find a way to keep enjoying your travels.
Yes, traveling with arthritis requires more planning, packing, and preparation. With little research, the right organization, and the support and advice of your rheumatologist and healthcare providers, you can manage the pain and enjoy your holidays as anyone else would.
How can travel affect arthritis?
Arthritis is a disease that causes pain, swelling, inflammation, and stiffness in one or several joints of the body. It’s not a single condition as there are over 100 different kinds of arthritis affecting more than 50 million people in the USA only. The most common ones are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and gout.
Depending on the type of arthritis, the most common symptoms are pain, stiffness, swelling, redness, and sometimes a decreased range of motion.
Travels can affect and even worsen your arthritis symptoms. Stress, tension, fatigue, lack of mobility, change of habits, and diet are inevitable parts of traveling. If not identified and controlled, each of these factors may have an impact on your joints’ health.
Related article: The Ultimate CheckList for Traveling with Diabetes!
Lack of mobility during travel can cause joint pain
Whether it's on a plane or a car, traveling often involves sitting and staying still for prolonged periods of time. People suffering from arthritis have a hard time staying still because it can trigger joint pain. Moving is essential to help limit the pain, lose the joints, and ward off the stiffness. Being on a long-haul flight or a 10-hours car trip can really make joint pain worse. Stretching, getting up, and walking around are often enough to help manage the pain. Pain medications may also be necessary in some cases.
Travel-induced fatigue can worsen arthritis pain
Whether you enjoy it or not, traveling is tiring. It implies numerous changes in habits and new stimuli that consciously or not draw the energy out of your body. Besides, you may be changing your time zone, exercising more than usual, or modifying your sleep habits. All of that can cause unusual fatigue. And fatigue is known to increase the pain or the sensation of pain caused by arthritis and joint inflammation.
Changes in diet can affect arthritis
Whether you like enjoying a traditional dinner with your friends or exploring new exotic flavors from Thailand, we'll all admit that food is a very important part of travel. The problem is that food has also been proven to have a considerable impact on inflammatory arthritis symptoms. While some foods help reduce the severity of the inflammation, others must be avoided. When we’re away from home, our food routine is often interrupted, which can be challenging for people living with chronic arthritis. You will need to pay extra attention to your meals.
Related article: 10 Great Anti-inflammatory Snacks for Rheumatoid Arthritis
These challenges of traveling with arthritis may create big concerns for you. But with some research, a good organization, and a bit of preplanning, you can lower the impacts of travel on your arthritis symptoms and considerably reduce the pain and anxiety. It is possible to travel pain-free even when you live with psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis. Here are a few tips that can help you out!
Related article: Safety Tips for Traveling with Osteoporosis
Tips for traveling with arthritis pain-free
First, it’s important to note that not all people diagnosed with arthritis have difficulty traveling. Actually, most of them are doing just fine. However, some people do report an increase in symptoms intensity, as well as stress and restlessness. But with organization and a few good practices in mind, you can avoid the extra pain and greatly enjoy your travels.
1. Pack your medication properly
One big challenge of traveling with a chronic health condition is to prepare and pack your medication properly. Traveling with medicines, whether internationally or locally, requires organization.
First, you need to make sure you’re packing enough quantity for the entire length of your stay. Good practices are to bring more drugs than what you need in case your trip is extended and to pack your medications in different bags in case one of them gets lost or stolen.
You'll also need to make sure you comply with customs at your destination. Some medicines aren't legally importable in certain countries. However, it should not be your case as most arthritis medications are sold worldwide. But some international destinations demand medical certificates. When in doubt, you should ask for your doctor or your pharmacist's advice before departure, and contact the embassy of your destination country.
2. Keep your injectables refrigerated
If you’ve been prescribed an injectable drug for psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis, you’ve probably been told that it needs to be kept refrigerated.
Indeed, most subcutaneous injections for arthritis are biologic medicines that are highly sensitive to heat. If not stored at the right temperatures, they quickly deteriorate and lose efficiency. They all need to be kept in the fridge before first use and can only stay at room temperature for limited periods of time:
- 8 hours for Actemra and Orencia
- 7 days for Cimzia
- 14 days for Humira and Enbrel
- 30 days for Simponi
- 5 days for Taltz
- 14 days for Kevzara
- 4 days for Cosentyx
When your next injections will occur during a holiday or a journey away from home, you will need to make sure your medication stays refrigerated or at room temperature. The safest and most convenient solution to travel with such refrigerated medications is to use a medical-grade travel cooler such as the ones from 4AllFamily.
3. Find travel insurance that covers Arthritis
Travel insurances often have exclusion clauses for incidents that are directly or indirectly related to a pre-existing medical condition. In most contracts, chronic arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and others enter that category.
To make sure you're covered in case you need medical attention or repatriation while abroad, you must carefully read the terms of your travel insurance contract. Give your insurance provider a call and ask for specific coverage that includes your pre-existing medical condition. It might come at an extra cost, but you'll be covered in case anything happens while away from home.
Related article: Arthritis travel insurance: How to be sure you’re covered?
4. Use lightweight rolling luggage to avoid pain
Heavy loads put added stress on your joints, causing pain and worsening arthritis damage and symptoms. Part of preplanning and organizing pain-free travels when you live with a chronic health condition like arthritis is to find the right travel equipment. Use luggage that is as lightweight as possible, and always prefer the ones that have wheels.
5. How to prepare for a flight if you have Arthritis
Flying is another big concern for people suffering from arthritis pain. However, it’s reassuring to know that many people do not experience any increased pain during flights. For those who do, the pain is probably caused by changes in air pressure and the fact that you’re sitting in the same position for a long time.
Call the airline company before your flight and inform them of your condition. They should be able to provide you with a wheelchair as well as offer you to board earlier and have someone to help carry your luggage. There are also a few good practices that have been shown to limit arthritis pain during long-haul flights such as moving, stretching, and others.
Related article: Flying with Arthritis, How to Prepare for Long-Haul Flights?
6. Bring you joint pain management accessories
When you’re traveling with chronic pain, you never know when the pain will strike. Make sure you’re always ready to act and have your personal pain management accessories available at any time. Some people find ice to relieve the pain, while others use medicated pain killers, over-the-counter topical creams, or walking devices. Pack whatever works for you at home.
7. Relax, stretch, and rest
The impact of sleeplessness is big on any kind of pain, joint pain included. Travels are tiring. Your sleep routine changes. You might get fewer hours of sleep than you usually have. Your sleep isn't as deep and repairing as it is at home. Pain and the sensation of pain are proven to be increased with restlessness. So, during your travels, make sure you get enough sleep. If you're on holiday, don't hesitate to take naps and relax during the day.
8. Ask for help
Last but not sleep, don’t be ashamed to ask for help when you need it. Most hotel workers, flight attendants, as well as most people in the streets will be happy to help you out. Before departure, ask for your doctor's and health care providers' advice. They're used to dealing with arthritis patients who travel all around the globe!
We hope this article has helped you find your own way to manage arthritis while traveling. Do not hesitate to ask, comment, and share your own tips and experiences in the section below!