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Travel Pain-Free With Knee Arthritis

By

Paige Greenfield

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walking through airport terminal

When you have knee arthritis, travel isn’t what it used to be. Instead of looking forward to the people you’ll see and the new experiences you’ll have, you may be worried about the pain and discomfort ahead. But you don’t have to be. With some careful planning and these savvy travel tips, you can send pain packing and focus on making new memories. Bon voyage! 

If You’re on the Road

Take breaks. Plan to stop every two hours to get out of the car, stretch, and move around. Stop more often if you experience pain. Sitting for long periods of time can stress your muscles and joints.

Basic hamstring, shoulder, neck and back stretches all can help. You can also simply reach up above your head, then down toward your toes. Be sure to talk with your doctor about specific stretches to make sure they’re safe for you.

Split the distance. If possible, travel with someone so you can take turns driving. When you’re resting, push the passenger seat back and move and stretch to stay comfortable.

Make adjustments. Before hitting the road, carefully adjust your seat, mirrors, and steering wheel so you’re as comfortable as possible. Position your seat so your foot is fully depressed on the pedal. Reaching with your toes can cause discomfort and pain.

Swivel on your seat. With arthritis, getting in and out of the car can be a chore. To lessen the strain, back yourself into your seat and swing your legs around to the front. Reverse the process when exiting. Using a beaded seat cover can help make these motions smoother. Also consider a lightweight auto-assist grip handle that sits in the "U" shaped striker in the door frame while you enter and exit the vehicle.

If You’re in the Air

Arrange help ahead of time. When booking your trip, make arrangements with the airline to have a wheelchair take you to your gate. Call TSA Cares, which can provide assistance at security screening so you don’t have to stand for long periods of time. The TSA Cares toll-free helpline is 855-787-2227.

Plan to pre-board. Taking extra time to get on the plane can help you get settled and avoid movements that could cause pain. Airlines are required to offer pre-boarding to disabled passengers even if they don’t announce it. When you get to your gate, tell the gate agent that you plan to pre-board. Stay near the gate so you’re ready to go when they announce pre-boarding.

Ask for help. Ask a flight attendant, travel companion, or passenger to place your bag in the overhead compartment for you.

Book a better seat. When possible, book a seat with extra legroom. Aisle seats are also a good choice because they give you space to stretch your legs and make it easier to stand up.

Stretch in the air. Periodically take breaks to stretch in your seat, in the aisle, or at the back of the plane. Try these ideas from the National Institute on Aging:

  • To relieve tension in your neck, slowly turn your head to the right until you feel a slight stretch. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds, then turn your head to the left and do the same.

  • To stretch your ankles, extend your legs out in front of you as far as possible. With your heels on the floor, bend your ankles to point toes toward you. Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds, then bend your ankles to point toes away from you. Hold for another 10 to 30 seconds.

More Smart Travel Tips

Reserve a certain type of room. When booking your hotel reservation, ask for a room that’s American Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. These rooms have lower beds, light switches, and sinks as well as grab bars in the bathroom for support.

Keep your medications with you. Pack your medications in your carry-on, not in your checked bags. If your medication needs to be refrigerated, pack it in a small cooler or in a zip-top bag with an icepack. Sort your pills into a pillbox so you don’t have to bring all their containers with you.

Pack healthy snacks. Most rest-stop food is loaded with fat and calories—a recipe for inflammation. Bring along healthy snacks like fruit and nuts. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can make inflammation worse. Drink plenty of water instead.

Key Takeaways

  • When traveling by car, plan to stop every two hours to get out, stretch, and move around.

  • Adjust your mirror and steering wheel so you’re comfortable as possible. Position your seat so your foot is fully depressed on the pedal.

  • Airlines are required to offer pre-boarding to disabled passengers. Taking extra time to get on the plane can help you avoid movements that could cause pain.

  • Take breaks to stretch in your seat, in the aisle, or at the back of the plane.

  • Pack your medications in your carry-on, not in your checked bags.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 18, 2016

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. 8 Tips for Pain-free Travel. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/pain-management/tips/pain-free-travel-tips.php
  2. Developing a Well-rounded Workout. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/how-to/well-rounded-workout.php
  3. Sample Exercises - Flexibility. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/exercise-physical-activity/sample-exercises-flexibility
  4. Disabilities and Medical Conditions. Transportation Security Administration. https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures

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