11 Tips for Flying with Arthritis

Whether you’re traveling for business, to see family, or go on a exotic vacation, flying can be a hassle—especially if you have a chronic condition like arthritis.

If you have a flight coming up, there are steps you can take to manage arthritis pain and stiffness. Here’s what you can do both before your flight and during it to make it more comfortable.

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Before you go

  1. Talk with your doctor to make sure you have enough medication for the full length of your trip, and maybe even a little extra in case of lost luggage or a delay.
  2. If you have a long flight, also ask if an additional prescription-strength pain medication would be appropriate for you.
  3. Before your trip, call the airline to inform them you have a medical condition. With advance notice, they should be able to:
    – Provide you with wheelchair assistance and early boarding, if necessary
    – Have airline personnel carry your luggage for you and/or lift it into the overhead bin for you
    – Accommodate you with special shuttles and elevator platforms for boarding
  4. Consider booking a flight when there will be fewer people on board and more room for you to stretch out or get up to walk. A travel agent or airline representative can help you determine this. Also, choose the aisle seat so it will be easier to stretch or get up and move around during the flight.
  5. Don’t schedule a flight that will require you to wake up extremely early, especially if your joints tend to be achy in the morning.

During your Flight..

  1. Take over-the-counter pain medication like Advil or naproxen (Aleve) to provide pain relief during the flight. Take it one hour before your flight to give it time to get into your system.
  2. Provide support to your joints during the flight. For lower back pain, provide support behind your lower back with a back roll or a pillow. If you use a brace for your affected joint, bring or wear it
  3. Practice good posture in your seat. If your legs are not at a right angle when you sit in the seat, ask for something (pillows, blankets) to prop up your feet and keep your knees at a right angle.
  4. Get up and walk around during long flights. According to a recent review of 10 studies, people with rheumatoid arthritis have twice the risk of deep vein thrombosis as those who don’t have RA.1 Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in the veins of your legs due to inactivity.If your flight is longer than 4 hours, you can help prevent deep vein thrombosis by getting up to walk around at least every 2 to 3 hours.
  5. Do seat exercises. This will help prevent stiffness in your joints while sitting during the flight and also decrease your risk for deep vein thrombosis.
  6. Use heat or ice therapy. If either heat or ice helps ease your joint pain, don’t be afraid to use it on the plane too. Bring along and use heat wraps or have a resealable plastic bag on hand and ask the attendant to fill it with ice.

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