Pain impacts the lives of millions of Americans. If you live with chronic or acute pain, everyday tasks can be difficult. Here are our top tips to make your journey more comfortable. While this takes planning and precautions, you’ll successfully outsmart your pain and see the world!
Before the Trip
Communicate with Your Physical Therapy Team and Other Healthcare Providers
If a physical therapist is currently treating your chronic pain, then you are being seen by an expert in movement with a deep understanding of the conditions of your body.
Communicate with your care team about traveling with chronic pain conditions, including the duration of the trip and all the ways you expect to travel. Together, you can create a plan of care to reduce pain and improve your comfort based on your travel and daily activities.
Give Yourself Extra Time and Focus to Pack
Adequate packing time helps reduce stress before, during, and after the trip because it gives you the confidence that you have everything you need to manage your pain.
Things to consider packing when traveling with chronic or acute pain: the Carry-on
- Place “pain management must-haves” in your carry-on or have them handy.
- Include a printout of your exercise program for the duration of your trip. Wi-Fi and battery life are luxuries when traveling—don’t count on electronics.
- Fill any prescriptions or pain medicine well in advance and have enough for the duration of your trip (plus three days’ extra supply in case of unforeseen delays). Always pack medications and pain relievers in your carry-on, and also consider bringing a record of your condition and a list of the medications you’re taking, just in case you need to show it for medical assistance or at TSA checkpoints.
- Pack stick-on, disposable heating/cooling pads and a neck pillow in a handy location to respond to pain signals.
- Pack an empty, reusable water bottle—economical, environmentally friendly, and hydrating.
Things to consider packing when traveling with chronic or acute pain: the Suitcase
- Wear and pack a good pair of shoes for walking, standing, or even running, especially if you’re sightseeing. Expect the unexpected, too—two-pair minimum.
- Pack whatever you can fit to help you sleep comfortably.
- If you’re going to be in a food desert, then pack foods that are consistent with your health needs and won’t cause inflammation.
Purchase Tickets Well In Advance
The earlier you can book your travel, the better the opportunity to select a seat and to buy as much comfort as you can afford. Get business or first class if you can, but always select a seat that will allow extra space. An aisle seat enables you to more easily get up to stretch during the trip and have more breathing room while seated. If you cannot get an aisle seat, don’t be shy about asking your neighbors to let you get up to stretch throughout the journey.
Ship Luggage, Golf Clubs, Skis and Other Bulky Items to Your Destination
There are companies like Luggage Free, Send My Bag, and Lugless that can handle deliver directly to your hotel or other locations. It’s a game-changer if you can afford it. Just remember to not ship any necessities for comfort—keep your pain management must-haves in your carry-on.
Air Travel—Flying with Chronic or Acute Pain
Skip Security Lines
A common concern we hear at CORA is patients who are worried about standing still, then walking. Consider getting TSA PreCheck or a Global Entry membership. Both options expedite the security screening portion of air travel considerably. Use the Department of Homeland Security’s interactive Trusted Traveler Tool to find the program that fits your needs.
You may qualify for medical assistance and request a wheelchair or guide. Airports are required to provide assistance, but it’s best to first check with your airline provider, then the airport itself to request this assistance. We recommend at least 48 hours’ notice, and ensure that the assistance is not only arranged for your airport entries, but also for airport exits.
To learn more about the services available, reference this article from the U.S. Department of Transportation on Wheelchair and Guided Assistance.
Waiting for Your Flight
Once you’re through security, get to your gate early. If you can, move around to keep up good circulation because it won’t be as easy on the plane. Also, take a moment to inform the gate attendant that you would like medical assistance on the plane. More on that below.
Travel like a VIP
Take advantage of what most airlines offer—the magical phrase, “now boarding anyone who needs extra time or assistance.” Bingo—that’s your cue! Even if you are not using a wheelchair, you can still use this accommodation. Most chronic and acute pain is invisible to the outside world, and airline agents are trained to assist anyone that “self-identifies” as needing this service.
Another VIP tip for traveling with pain is to check out whether your airline or credit cards can get you into airport lounges. These lounges are spacious and are designed to provide convenience and comfort while traveling.
To ease stress for travelers, airports are seeing a rise in airport spas and massage stations. If you don’t want to spend money on a spa, some airports have yoga and meditation rooms to help.
Assistance All the Way to the Plane and Beyond
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) provides airlines, both foreign and domestic, a rule of law with definitive rights for passengers of all flights traveling within, to, or from the United States. To learn more about ACAA and your rights as a citizen, then follow this link: here.
Ground travel – Cars, Trains, and More for Traveling with Chronic or Acute Pain
Consider Every Stop a Rest Stop
Long periods of time between stops can make pain worse. This is especially true for older adults, and those with chronic pain including back and neck. Use rest stops to your advantage.
Rest stops are a good time to treat yourself with a stick-on heating pad. Or, a brief walk to get the circulation moving. If you are in physical therapy, perform exercises from your home-care program. Now you’re traveling like a VIP!
Renting a Car
Rent a car that gives you enough space, and opt for a vehicle with automatic opening doors and trunks. If you’re considering a handicap-accessible van, know that not all rental companies offer them. Check out places like Accessible Vans of America or Freedom Motors if a specially equipped van is a necessity.
Taxis and App-based Rides
Options are on the rise for comfortable rides with either taxis or car-sharing services. Uber is coming out with UberWAV, and Lyft is launching its Lyft AccessMode Pilot. If you’re not an app person or not in a region that offers this service, then your traditional taxi services MUST be told that you require a vehicle that is accessible for your condition.
All Aboard! Traveling on Trains with Pain
Trains are by far the most comfortable solution for people with chronic pain. You have more space to sit, and you can stand up, stretch and even walk around anytime you’d like. If you’re prone to motion sickness, a front-facing seat is your better bet. But—as always—keep that carry-on bag close so your sense of stress is lower too.
Ship Ahoy! Sea Travel with Pain
Always, always, always check to see if all ports of call are ADA-compliant. Even if you don’t absolutely need an ADA-compliant port, you will at least know what to expect and can plan ahead.
If chartering a boat, ask the company if it would like a copy of your prescriptions and a note of your condition from your doctor and physical therapist.
If you have a wheelchair and are traveling on a cruise, book a room that is close to the elevator so you’re conveniently located for rest or fun. Also, ask for a room that is wheelchair-accessible and ADA-compliant.
- Double- and triple-check your essentials and your carry-on must-haves. This little step allows more focus on fun during your travels.
- Have your medical information with you at all times. Whether on a piece of paper or a medical alert bracelet or app, keep a list of your medications along with your doctor’s name and number.
- Pack as lightly as possible.
- Check for discounts for those who require special services or are limited to experiencing all the travel company has to offer.
- Consider travel insurance protection if you’re concerned that the trip you booked and the condition you have may not sync up when travel time comes.
The Journey Ahead
The goal of this article is to empower you to travel as much as your heart desires. Any time is the right time for the treatment of chronic pain. We encourage everyone to pursue care.
As physical therapists, our job is to get you back to doing the things you love and spending quality time with the ones you love. Travel is one of the best things you can do to stay active, stay healthy, and increase the quality of your life instantly.
Of course, we understand that traveling with chronic or acute pain is not a simple journey, and it is easier to plan than to physically do. For more information about traveling and how physical therapy can benefit you, contact a local physical therapist to go over options and solutions.