Chronic Pain and Travel
For people with chronic pain, the thought of travel
can be clouded with worry about the effect that
changes in routine and environment will have on
their ability to manage pain. The truth is that with
a little pre-planning, chronic pain can be managed
well when far from home. Here are some simple tips
for remaining comfortable on your journey.
Tip #1 – A good start can set the tone for the
One way to avoid the stress and fatigue that can
make chronic pain worse is to get organized. Make a
list of what you’ll need and any arrangements you’ll
need to make at work and home before departure.
Decisions about pet care, mail and newspaper delivery,
or how tasks at work will be delegated, can be
made far in advance of your trip.
And planning your wardrobe and necessities will
help to avoid the hurried feeling of last-minute
shopping. With enough pre-planning, you can start
out feeling rested and relaxed.
Tip #2 – Keep luggage light to avoid strain.
Climate, terrain and planned activities will be the
main determinants of the clothing and footwear
needed for your trip. Fortunately, the internet has
made this information easy to access. Pack clothing
that can be mixed, matched and layered to help keep
items to a minimum. Use rolling luggage and remember
to distribute the weight of any bags that you
carry evenly to avoid muscle strain.
Tip #3– Carry a brief health history.
A brief health history, including a list of medications,
dosages and the reason (diagnosis) for which you
are using the medication, is important to have.
A note from your healthcare provider may be
necessary if you are carrying syringes and needles.
When using public transportation, such as air travel,
check the policies and resources for medications
that require refrigeration. Let airline agents and
screeners know about implantable devices and
artificial joints to avoid problems getting through
Tip #4 – Count your medications.
Make a list of medications, medical supplies and the
amount you will need. If you require an early medication
refill, smooth the process by contacting your
healthcare provider well in advance of travel.
Also, notify your pharmacist if you’re planning to
pick up prescriptions in a different city. Prescription
medications should be kept with you rather than
packed in luggage. If going through security, medication
should be properly labeled and kept in
a resealable plastic bag.
Tip #5 – Consider the transportation method.
It ‘s easier to stop, stand and stretch when traveling
by car than when traveling by airplane, but regardless
of the transportation method, there are simple steps
you can take to stay comfortable.
When traveling by air:
• Choose nonstop flights when possible.
• Walk in the aisle when safe to do so. Aisle seats,
bulk head seats and those in exit rows have more
leg room, which may be something to consider
when making reservations.
• Use a cervical travel pillow for neck problems if
taking a long flight.
• Avoid heavy carry-on luggage. Ask for assistance
in lifting carry-on luggage in and out of overhead
compartments to avoid strain.
• Exercise in the seated position. For example,
rotation exercises for the neck, ankles and wrists;
shoulder rolls; flexion and extension of the
knees; and simple stretches can prevent muscles
from becoming stiff and tight.
If traveling by air or out of the country, security
guidelines and screening procedures must be considered.
For those with an implanted pain device,
such as a spinal cord stimulator or intrathecal pain
pump, always carry the identification card provided
when the device was implanted to show to security.
While there is no problem with being screened in
the usual manner, the security officer may choose to
use a hand wand for persons with implanted medical
The Transportation and Security Administration (TSA)
website – www.tsa.gov – is the best resource for more
information. Knowing the requirements ahead of time
can help reduce stress and make your journey easier.
When traveling by car:
• Use a lumbar support. A rolled towel makes a
great makeshift cushion.
• Map your route to avoid the stress of getting
lost and to plan rest stops. Don’t forget to spend
a few minutes of your stop doing some light
• If renting a car, consider whether the model has
the features you may want, such as an adjustable
steering wheel or headrest. Also consider
whether it allows for easy loading and unloading
• Avoid carrying your wallet, money clip, cell
phone or other bulky items in your back pocket
to decrease strain on your low back and sciatic
• Bring a cooler with ice packs for sore muscles.
When taking a cruise:
• If needed, investigate accommodations for the
handicapped, such as handrails and grab bars,
throughout the ship. This recommendation can
be applied to train and bus travel, as well.
• Ask whether all public levels of the ship, as well
as ports along the route, are easily accessed.