Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, flying can be a hassle—especially if arthritis affects your knees, hips, or other joints. What steps can you take to manage arthritis pain and stiffness and make your flight more comfortable?

If you have space, leg lifts are a good seated exercise to do on a plane. See Knee Strengthening Exercises

  1. Do a pre-flight workout. A workout in the pool or 30 minutes of yoga can help loosen joints and ward off the stiffness that can set in when sitting in a plane seat. (Keep in mind this isn’t the time to take up a new activity—only exercise if it’s already a part of your normal weekly routine.)

    See Exercising with Arthritis

  2. Pay for the extra legroom. Many airlines offer the option to buy a seat with more legroom for an additional $40 or $50. The extra inches will give you a bit more room to stretch out.
  3. Pack smart. Use lightweight, rolling luggage to avoid lifting heavy loads. Suitcases with extendable handles and wheels that rotate 360° are great options because they can be pulled or pushed.
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  1. Take pain medication in your carry-on. Keep pain medication easily accessible. If you have mild to moderate pain, a few extra Advil or Tylenol may do the trick. If you take prescription pain medication, you may want to talk to your doctor about whether you will need to take a higher dose or augment your existing medication with another drug while traveling.

    See Pain Medications for Arthritis Pain Relief

  2. Get up and walk around. Arthritis pain and stiffness can set in while sitting during a long flight. Get out of your seat and walk up and down the aisle every couple of hours—or more frequently if you want.

    See Aerobic Exercise for Knee Arthritis

  3. Book the aisle seat. Booking an aisle seat will give you the option to get out of your seat as many times as you like without having to ask your row-mates to get up.
  4. Ask for special treatment. If your arthritis pain affects your mobility, call the airline beforehand to inform them of your condition. With advance notice, they should be able to:
    • Provide you with wheelchair assistance and early boarding, if necessary
    • Have airline personnel carry your luggage and/or lift it into the overhead bin for you
    • Accommodate you with special shuttles and elevator platforms for boarding
  5. Provide support to your joints during the flight. For lower back pain, provide support behind your lower back with a back roll or a pillow. If you use a brace for your affected joint, bring or wear it.
  6. Practice good posture in your seat. Ideally, your knees and hips should be at 90° angles when you sit. If you do this and your feet don’t comfortably meet the floor, find something to prop them up on. You can ask a flight attendant for pillows and blankets or even use your carry-on as a footrest.

    See 5 Ways to Be Road-Trip Ready with Arthritis

  7. Use heat or ice therapy. If either heat or ice helps ease your joint pain, don't be afraid to use it on the plane. Disposable, one-use hand warmers (that must be shaken or broken to activate) can be used to apply heat. Cold packs can be made with resealable plastic bags and ice. Most flight attendants will fill a plastic bag with ice upon request—just be sure to ask politely!

    See Applying Heat vs. Cold to an Arthritic Joint

  8. Do exercises while seated. A few simple seated exercises can help prevent in-flight stiffness:
    • Raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the ground
    • Raise and lower your heels while your toes stay on the ground.
    • Tighten and relax the muscles in your legs.
    • If you have space, lift your foot off the floor and straighten your leg until you feel it in your hamstrings (see illustration above).

    See Knee Stretches

The reward of travel is usually worth the pain of getting there, but that doesn't mean you can't make trips a little easier and more comfortable with these tips.

Learn more:

Hip Osteoarthritis Causes and Risk Factors

What Is Knee Osteoarthritis?

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