November 23, 2020

Traveling with Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can cause interruptions and frustrations in everyday life. Pain, discomfort, limited mobility, fatigue, all of this comes with chronic pain. Trying to add travel into the mix can cause some apprehension and even anxiety for some people. Although chronic pain may cause life to look a little different, it does not mean that the joys of life are over! 

Chronic pain is a large umbrella that encompasses a variety of conditions. Although the conditions and symptoms of chronic pain may vary from person to person, it is likely that individuals may suffer from one or multiple of the following symptoms:

  • Aching pain
  • Throbbing pain
  • Burning sensation 
  • Stinging 
  • Pins and needles
  • Soreness in muscles and/or joints
  • Stiffness in joints 
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite 

One of the biggest pieces of managing chronic pain is managing stress. Pain and stress have multiple conceptual and physiological overlaps. Both stress and pain are adaptive in protecting the body from things like injury or starvation. However, when either of these processes becomes chronic it can cause long-term maladaptive changes which result in a compromised wellbeing. Traveling can cause more stress to individuals both mentally and physically. 

In addition to stress, the physical nature of traveling can cause discomfort. Sitting in one position for an extended period of time can cause stress on the body and increase stiffness that may already be a symptom of someone’s chronic pain. One study shows that members of the Royal Canadian Air Force developed chronic neck pain over time. This can be another concern for those with chronic pain looking to travel. 

Tips For Traveling With Chronic Pain

Traveling with chronic pain may cause some concerns, but it does not have to be a dreaded fear. Being properly prepared can make travel manageable and worthwhile! Here are some top tips for managing chronic pain while traveling:

  • Manage stress. As mentioned earlier, stress and pain have many overlaps. Packing accordingly, arriving on-time to the airport, even checking weather and traffic in advance can all help to properly prepare for the upcoming trip and reduce stress, therefore minimizing flare-ups and unnecessary added pain. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. Occupational therapists and driver rehabilitation specialists can be very helpful when it comes to finding rental cars. Some rental car companies have special programs to meet the needs of others. Vehicles including swivel seats, spinner knobs, and other hand-held controls may make traveling easier and more accessible. 
  • Everything in moderation. It’s easy to completely throw care to the wind and enjoy food more than normal while traveling. While enjoying some indulgences is completely fine, remember the age-old saying, everything in moderation. Studies show that individuals who follow diets that are more plant based have a reduction in inflammation and the body’s immune response to toxins. Don’t forget to eat fruits and vegetables on vacation! Packing healthy snacks may also make it easier to maintain eating in moderation while traveling. 
  • Keep medication handy. Be sure to pack any medications, over-the-counter or prescription, on hand at all times. If necessary, use a pillbox to pack and organize medications. If anything requires refrigeration use a small cooler or lunchbox with an ice pack and ziploc bag to store medications appropriately. Having what you need accessible to you at any time can help reduce stress and give you the help you need if pain starts flaring up. 
  • Keep moving. Traveling can mean sitting still for long periods of time. During road trips, take time to walk around at a rest stop and spend a few minutes stretching when filling up for gas. If traveling by plane or train, move around when it is allowed. Walk the aisles if necessary. Try isometric exercises like flexing and simple stretches while seated. 

November 23, 2020


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