How To Move Without Pain

8 Tips to Guarantee a Vacation of Pain-Less Joint Fun

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 8 minutes to read

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Travel with family, business trips required for work, get away with friends; no matter the reason why, most of us travel a lot. Exploring new countries or within our own country, summer travel is always a busy time. School’s out, and it’s time to relax by the beach, check out a new state park, or visit friends in another state. 

Whether by car, train, airplane, or another form of transportation, it all takes planning, prepping, and readiness to make sure we have all we need to make sure the trip is smooth and as least stressful as possible. Of course, we pack the clothes we need, toiletries, and books for the trip, but what about what our bodies need?  To make sure joint pain, muscle aches, and unnecessary body pains don’t limit us on our travels, a little extra planning is always helpful. Making sure our whole selves are ready for the trip –  not just the cute dresses, strappy sandals, and sunglasses.

Learn why your joints hurt so you know what to do about it

If you suffer from joint pain, traveling can be tedious and not something you look forward to.  Plus if you’ve been suffering from joint pain for a while, your planning a trip might already be different from others. You know what you need to make it through a day and not increase your pain, or what you need to do at the end of your travel day to help alleviate your pain. 

Although pain can’t be fully avoided when we travel, there are things we can do to make travel less painful.

Get up and Move (Often)

Traveling can mean a lot of sitting – on the tram, the airplane, the bus, in the car or camper.  The prolonged hours that you are sitting can cause joints to stiffen and muscles to tighten. Many people feel like their joints are painful and stiff when they sit for a long time, especially when they try to stand up straight. As often as you can, get up, walk around, move your body. If you stop at a rest stop (even if you don’t have to go to the bathroom) get out of the car, walk up and down the sidewalk, bend backward, stretch your hamstrings, move your head in all directions especially if you tend to look down at your phone or book while you are sitting in your seat. 

Choose your Seat

Cramped seating can be a common reason for increased knee, hip, and back pain while traveling. If you need the extra legroom to alleviate or reduce your leg joint pains, plan ahead and pick a seat with more legroom (exit rows or the first row in coach usually have more legroom). Choose an aisle seat so you can easily get up and walk down the aisles a time or two and not feel guilty by disturbing your neighbor. Plus you can easily get up whenever you feel stiff or extend a leg into the aisle if it’s not in anyone’s way. 

**Side Note: As a mom, I tend to put all ‘the things’ my kids need at my feet: snacks, extra crayons or pens, notebooks, car games, you name it. This leaves me with no foot room during a car ride. I did this once on an 11 hour trip to Tennessee… I sat with my knees crisscrossed for nearly the entire ride (I didn’t think I could stand up straight for the entire week)! Learn from me – strategize your glove box with the real necessities, put a snack bag or activity bag behind the passenger seat, or better yet in the trunk. Having to stop to get out of the car and get the snacks requires movement, and gives you an excuse to stop at a rest stop and move around.

Take the free Joint Health Assessment to learn the potential impact of your current activity limitations

Take a Connection

Most of us want to get to our destination as quickly as possible, but that could mean long flights or road time without the chance to get up and move around. If planning a trip that is going to take more than 2-3 hours of sitting, plan for a connecting flight. Getting out of your seat, walking to the connecting gait is a perfect time to get some exercise and movement into your day.  If you are driving,  you are on your schedule and you can make a stop whenever you want. Consider stopping at scenic overlooks, or map out short destination stops along the way.  Getting out, stretching, and walking around will help to alleviate stiffness and subside the pain.

Drink More Water

Up to 60% of our body is made of water. Snacking in the airport or car tends to lead us to saltier foods, as well as potentially drier air or other climate changes in new areas (especially if going somewhere hot) which can cause us to dehydrate. Dehydration can exacerbate chronic muscle and joint pain, slow the rate of tissue recovery and healing, and increase the chances of injury. Our bodies are doing enough work lugging our suitcases, walking to destinations, and tolerating new seats/mattresses. Proper hydration can help reduce pain, and protect your joints and muscles by keeping the cartilage soft and pliable.

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Keep the Carry-on Light

Whether by train or plane, if you have a carry-on and/or purse, you are lugging that around all day with you. Often over one shoulder, causing a lopsided effort in your muscles, posture, and taxing your body. This can make you tired, but you can’t leave it, so you keep lugging it around. Packing light may feel like a huge feat, but try these tips to give you some ideas to lighten your load: 

  1. Skip the book, download a reading app on your phone and use that, just for the trip. Pack your book or kindle in your checked bag. Check out the Libby app, you can use your library card and download books for free or SCRIBD app, for under $10 a month you have a huge array of books, podcasts, audiobooks, pdfs, magazines, and more to keep you busy while waiting for your layover or sitting snug in your seat. 
  2. Wear your heaviest shoes. Not always practical – I get it. But I wear my boots when I travel and pack my flip-flops or flats (or I skip the boots all together). 
  3. Pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on, just in case. Me too! But I skip the pants – a new shirt, socks, and underwear and you will be good to go. Jeans are heavy!
  4. Use the travel size for everything – this means soaps, electric toothbrushes, lotions, toothpaste. Leave full-sized shampoo/conditioner, body washes at home.
  5. Girls, skip a towel and pack a sarong. Lighter and does the same job (and usually cuter)
  6. Check with your hotel, before you pack your hairdryer, iron, or other appliances, see if the hotel has them. Most are already in the rooms or you can request them once you get there. The same goes for toiletries, toothpaste, toothbrushes. 
  7. Empty your wallet – remove the loyalty cards, membership cards, store credit cards, and anything else you won’t need on your trip

Share the Weight of Luggage, Backpacks, Purses

Even with a plan to lighten the load of a carry-on, stuff still piles up. To alleviate joint pain and muscle stresses, only carry what is yours. Meaning your carry yours and the kids carry theirs. They get a personal item for carry-on too, grab their backpacks and fill it with their snacks, treats, games, books and put it on them to carry. 

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Staying Health Conscious

Vacation and traveling can often be a time for overindulgence. Healthy habits and drinking water can be shifted for the snacks, fruity drinks, and pastries that come with resorts. Snack foods are often salty, and processed food often can contain ingredients that increase inflammatory factors in our bodies. Indulge in moderation on the trip; until you get there, snack wisely so you have the energy to travel and not feel overtaxed. Pack fruit, unsalted nuts, cheese sticks, a reusable water bottle to keep you on track and away from the salty snacks. 

Keep your Doctor/Physical Therapist in the Loop 

Tell your doctor or physical therapist about your upcoming trip. Ask questions about how to know when you need to rest, change position, what shoes to bring, how to manage hotel pillows, and anything else that comes to your mind. Discussing the trip will help you have the best experience while on your vacation or away on business. Knowing what you can do yourself, and what exercises or stretches you can do will benefit you while you are away. Know your medication options and how to contact your medical team if you have questions while you are traveling. 

Travel of any kind takes planning, coordinating, and thinking through all aspects of the trip. Plan your shoes to wear depending on your activity level. Pack enough medications for the entire time away, and listen when your body is saying it’s time to rest. The stress of traveling can often trigger a flare-up or pain from chronic illness. Remember to rest as much as you can while you explore a new area or attend a conference. Traveling with joint pain doesn’t have to be limiting, but knowing your limits and being prepared as much as you can will help reduce unnecessary increases in pain and joint stress that could limit your activity and overall tolerance to your trip.

Take the free Joint Health Assessment to learn the potential impact of your current activity limitations​

Enjoy traveling? Whether you’re looking for day trips, weekend getaways or longer vacations, Adventures in the US helps you find your next adventure. Highlighting adventures big and small and unique destinations for couples, getaways for friends and family vacations, you’re sure to find lots of fun things to add to your travel bucket list when you subscribe to Adventures in the US.

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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