Traveling With Chronic Pain


Written by Tam Warner Minton

When I began solo traveling and performing citizen science after my children left home, one of my family’s major concerns was how I would manage my back pain alone. What would I do without help? I have had two major back surgeries, and I am fused from L2-S2 with rods and 8 pedicle screws. In other words, my spine looks like a madman’s science project! Heavy lifting is a major issue for me in all aspects, and since I do volunteer scuba diving trips, I make arrangements before I go to be sure it is understood I need assistance with the weight of the tank. In addition to my chronic back pain, I have Psoriatic Arthritis which flares up when it is most inconvenient. I have learned about taking care of myself when traveling with chronic pain, and I’m happy to share these lessons.

1. Always plan to be in pain. Yes. You will be in pain, so be prepared and have pain medications or any pain management items you normally use, at your fingertips. When I fly, I always carry pain relief such as Salonpas Pain Relief Patches, muscle relaxers, and muscle relief creams like Deep Blue or Icy Hot in my purse or backpack. I also take Aleve for joint pain; I find it works best for long term relief.

2. Always wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing that does not restrict your body in any way since you may need to apply a patch or a cream. Loose, comfy clothes and shoes are comfortable when I stretch or sleep on a plane. I stretch every time I get up, and try to get up at least once every two hours to stretch and walk a bit.

3. I always have a pillow for my neck. Adding neck pain from uncomfortable seats or planes or trains compounds any type of pain one has. My motto is suffer as little as possible!

4. Add 2 or 3 days to your itinerary. I have found this to be imperative, and it is one piece of advice I absolutely urge you to follow. I know this seems excessive, but there have been times I have arrived at a location and had to rest for a day or two, and who wants to lose one second of vacation or a volunteer trip? I always build in the “days of rest” at the beginning of my trip, because chronic pain may be unavoidable when you travel. Planes, luggage, airports, walking long distances, standing in lines…I need a couple of days of being on my back with muscle relaxers after a travel day. It is worth the extra cost, and if your body doesn’t need the rest, you’ve gained a couple of extra vacation days!

5. Always wear compression socks or leggings on a long flight. The last thing you need to add to your pain is a blood clot.

6. Always check your luggage, and when available, use carts or porters or bellboys. I know it costs more, but it is worth it if you are in pain. Lugging bags around is just about the worst thing you can do if you are hurting. Always accept offers of assistance, and be generous with tips.

7. Sleep. Sleep is a cure for almost anything, I find. Take a muscle relaxer or pain pill and get some sleep! You’ll feel better when you wake up, I promise.

8. Lastly, hydrate! Water, juice, lemonade, or tea will help to hydrate you and that is beneficial when in pain. Your muscles get tight when dehydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids (alcohol and soda do not add to hydration, they actually dehydrate the body. I never drink alcohol on travel days. Sorry about that!)

There you have it, Tam’s Tips for Traveling with Chronic Pain. I’m very experienced at this, and these are the best tips I have. So book your trip, pack up your gear and get going! You will be glad you did.

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