Arthritis can severely affect mobility and comfort — sometimes on a daily basis. Relief comes once you find the right treatment and routine that allow you to live fully. However, when planning to travel, unpredictability and change can turn that carefully perfected routine upside down.
"Making sure you stay mobile is the most important aspect of traveling with arthritis, as staying idle for more than one hour can lead to stiffness and joint pain," says Dr. Peter Hanson, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
Before you travel by car or plane, he recommends visiting your physical therapist to help create a stretching routine best for you — including isometric stretches that involve flexing and holding muscles for five to six seconds.
These five tips for traveling with arthritis can help make your trip more comfortable.
1. Bring a cane or walking stick — even if you think you won't need it.
"While you may not need it day to day at home, there are elements of traveling that could lead to a need for a cane or walking stick," says Dr. Hanson. Unforeseen factors such as weather or walking more than usual can cause inflammation for those with arthritis. A cane or walking stick can relieve pressure if any discomfort arrives on your vacation.
2. Bring wraps, pads, portable ice packs and topical creams for hot and cold therapy.
According to Dr. Hanson, hot and cold therapy can help relieve pain and stiffness. "Make sure to try them before the trip to find the right brand and type of therapy that works for you, before packing any unnecessary products," says Dr. Hanson.
3. Make sure all medications are refilled.
"Sometimes our state license will not allow for prescriptions to be filled in another state and you can never refill a U.S. prescription in a foreign country," reminds Dr. Hanson. Therefore, it is important to have all medications filled, request an extra written prescription in case of emergency situations, and check ahead for the closest pharmacy to where you are staying.
Another important thing to note when traveling with medication is to keep it with you and not in checked bags. Any medicines that require refrigeration should be stored in a small cooler or zip-close bag with an ice pack.
4. Research your hotel and put in special requests.
Requesting a low-level hotel room or one closer to the elevator can help decrease unnecessary walking. Dr. Hanson also recommends choosing a hotel with a hot tub or sauna to relieve arthritis pain at the end of the day — especially when vacationing in a colder climate.
Make sure there is a refrigerator in your hotel room if you need to keep any medication cold, and to store any food needed to take with that medication or for an energy boost during an activity-filled day.
5. Choose your meals carefully.
Some foods can lead to feeling swollen or bloated — especially foods that are high in fats and calories, because they promote inflammation — and this can greatly affect someone with arthritis. Dr. Hanson recommends meeting with your doctor or a nutritionist to devise a meal and snack plan that works best with your arthritis.
If you are heading on a road trip, make sure to pack healthy snacks and plenty of drinking water instead of desperately trying to pick out a healthy snack from a gas station mart. Also, be sure to be careful in your consumption of alcohol and caffeine as they can aggravate inflammation.
As always, if you have questions about travel with arthritis, talk with your doctor. Don't let joint pain keep you from living a full and active life.