Traveling Comfortably With Arthritis

15 Oct 2018 Articles

By Mordechai (Mark) Shedrowitzky, PT, MS
Owner/Director of Rehabilitation Associates of Brooklyn

Now that summer is approaching I frequently overhear the same conversation between patients in my office.

“Are you going to be visiting your children this summer?  No.  I don’t think so.  It’s a long trip and with my arthritis I’ll never be able to get out of the car when I get there.”  This is a conversation that has the potential to go entirely differently with some education.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint or joints, which is where two bones come together.  According to the CDC there are approximately 50 million people in the United States with arthritis, including approximately 294,000 under the age of 18.

What does arthritis come from?

There are many different causes of arthritis, including wear and tear on the joint, autoimmune issues, gout, trauma, psoriasis, side effects from certain drugs, and many more. There are at least 100 types of arthritis and associated diseases. We will focus on osteoarthritis, the arthritis caused by general wear and tear, although this discussion applies to most types of arthritis as well.

Why is traveling with arthritis uncomfortable?

There are a number of negative effects that arthritis has on the joint.  There will typically be the loss of or softening of the cartilage which serves to protect the ends of the bones.  There will also be the loss of normal joint fluid which serves as a joint lubricant.  In severe cases there will be spurring (extra bony growth) on the ends of the bones.  Due to these changes in the joint there is typically stiffness and/or pain when trying to move the arthritic joint out of a position that it has been in for more than a few minutes.  This is why one of the hallmarks of osteoarthritis is having pain and/or stiffness in the morning until you move around for a few minutes.

The key to traveling comfortably with arthritis is to keep in mind the causes of pain and stiffness and plan for them.  What I usually recommend to my patients is the following:

–When traveling short distances most people do not have significant issues caused by arthritis, but with trips that last longer than 20 – 30 minutes there may be stiffness and pain, especially when attempting to exit the car.  To minimize this issue try to move the seat back as far as it will go to allow for movement of the affected joints during the ride which will help ward off some of the potential stiffness.

— Additionally, if the ride will be lengthy, then stopping to exit the car is recommended every 30-45 minutes.  Once you get out of the car, just a short walk for 30-60 seconds will stop the pain/stiffness from setting in.  If at all possible, range of motion exercises should be done while traveling to promote lubrication of the affected joints.  This will also help blood circulation in that area of the body which will be beneficial in remaining limber.

–Another useful strategy used to decrease difficulty associated with traveling is to take an anti-inflammatory medication.  I would recommend that clearing the use of anti-inflammatory medication with your physician prior to taking it if you are not on a regular regimen of it.  This is because the use of these medicines is contraindicated in people with certain medical conditions such as stomach ulcers, unstable high blood pressure, etc. It would be helpful for those with arthritis to plan their scheduled anti-inflammatory medication around departure time.   If the anti-inflammatories are taken 20 minutes prior to departure there will be less pain and stiffness in the affected joints upon arrival at the destination.  If there is significant stiffness and/or pain in the affected joint upon arrival, it would be helpful to use a moist heating pad as well as perform range of motion exercises to restore function of the affected area.

Things to consider when planning a trip

  • The walking distance from the car to your hotel/home
  • Are there stairs that you will have to use, and if yes, how many
  • Distance to the elevators
  • Are there handrails/grab bars to assist in tub and toilet use
  • Are there elevated toilet seats
  • Is there wheelchair accessibility if needed
  • Is there room service available if you are unable to leave the hotel due to pain

So there is certainly no reason to stay home this summer.  Get into your car and travel.  Go visit your children and grandchildren.  See the sights you have always wanted to see.  Keep in mind that you can always consult your physical therapist or physician for guidance in managing your arthritis.  Have a great summer!

For further information regarding arthritis or any other musculoskeletal or neurological issue please feel free to contact a physical or occupational therapist at Rehabilitation Associates of Brooklyn at 718-616-1450 or email us at  We are located at 2072 Ocean Avenue, Suite 101, Brooklyn, NY 11230

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