For the 50+ Traveler

Jet lag has a whole new meaning when traveling with arthritis. Not only are you experiencing sleep deprivation due to traveling across multiple time zones, but you are now in all sorts of muscle and joint pain resulting from your grating arthritis.

Achy joints, sharp pains, stiffness, tenderness, and swelling are just a few symptoms of arthritis, symptoms that only seem to worsen while traveling. For those traveling with this disorder, try the tips below to minimize pain and discomfort in order to enjoy your journey to the fullest, without letting pain hold you back.

1. Book smart

Though it might cost you a few extra pennies, your arthritis will be thanking you when you choose your own seats, upgrade to First Class, select spacious rental cars, or request that king-size bed at your hotel. Making said minor adjustments to your travel plans will indubitably allow for a more comfortable and pleasurable trip.

Choosing an aisle seat on a flight allows more room to stretch your legs, while upgrading to First Class provides the opportunity for recliner seats and more spacious seating arrangements overall. Book flights departing mid-week so lines at the airport are less congested, or sign-up for TSA PreCheck to skip the line entirely at security.

Some rental car companies even have special programs to personalize options based on an individual traveler's needs. According to, Avis Rent-A-Car's Access Program offers vehicles with swivel seats, spinner knobs and other hand controls.

If you want to learn more about making your interactions with the TSA less painful, check out Is TSA PreCheck Worth The Money?

2. Consider some simple assisted devices

For those who suffer from arthritis while traveling, consider bringing some simple assisted devices along with you on your trip. This could be anything from a cane or walker, folding reacher, travel chair, beaded seat cover ,or something as simple as a memory foam travel pillow.

When lines are long at the airport or there are no available seats to sit down at your gate, having some of these assisted devices will help soothe any pain you may experience while you wait. Not to mention, all of these items are relatively compact, light and/or collapsible, making them easy to carry with you throughout your travels.

Man sits on grass, shin wrapped, reacher next to him
Folding reachers can help minimize pain induced by arthritis. carballo/Shutterstock

3. Get physical, physical

Whenever you have some time to kill on your vacation, namely in airports or during flights, give your body some TLC and do some basic stretches.

Experts Matt Hyland, PT, Ph.D., MPA, CSCS, President of the New York Physical Therapy Association, and Sharon Kolasinski, M.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, explain that those with arthritis should stretch their back, hips and knees daily.

One simple stretch that can be done practically anywhere is a posterior shoulder and back stretch. Hyland and Kolasinski suggest standing straight with both arms at your sides. Gently bring your right arm across your chest, keeping it straight. Take hold of your right elbow with your left hand and gently stretch your right arm across your body.

For a full list and detailed descriptions of Hyland and Kolasinski's stretching suggestions, click here.

The Arthritis Foundation also suggests a variety of stretches for those with arthritis that can be done on the go, including chest stretches for back and neck pain, park bench power moves and tips on how to exercise from your couch.

4. Carry all medications + heating/cooling pads

Before embarking on your journey, check in with your doctor to make sure you have sufficient medications for the full length of your trip. It may even be a good idea to ask for an extra prescription to take with you as back up, or in case of an emergency.

Heating and cooling pads are another effective way to minimize any induced arthritic pain and swelling while traveling. Heating and cooling pads are simple, inexpensive, lightweight, easy-to-carry, and, most importantly, effective.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, heating pads tend to work best for soothing stiff joints and tired muscles. The heat enhances circulation, delivering nutrients to joints and muscles. Cooling pads, on the other hand, are best for acute pain. Cooling devices restrict blood vessels, which inevitably slows circulation, reduces swelling, and numbs nerve endings that dull pain.

5. Amenities, amenities, amenities

We already discussed certain ways to make a trip more enjoyable before or during a flight, but what about after reaching your destination?

Those traveling with arthritis should check to see what amenities hotels, resorts or B-n-B's offer. Choosing accommodations with spas, saunas, pools, or hot tubs can all help reduce joint pain.

If your medications need to be refrigerated, be sure to request a room with a refrigerator beforehand. Choosing lodging that offers room service can be helpful if your body is simply too tired to go out for a meal.

Click here for more information about what WebMD has to say about traveling with arthritis.

Traveling with arthritis can be a major pain (literally), but we hope these tips will be useful in reducing arthritic discomfort and result in a more pleasant travel experience.