How to Travel the World with Chronic Pain or Injury

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Invisible Struggles: Coping with Chronic Pain While Traveling

For more than fifteen years, I have been traveling with chronic pain– a herniated disk, eye pain, and several foot issues. I have had great leg and back pain. It forced me to alter some of the activities in which I participated. But many of my friends had no idea I was in so much pain. I didn’t want anyone to know because that wasn’t what I wanted to be known for. Ultimately, I learned to cope with the pain until I couldn’t. I even ran a few half marathons because running felt better than walking. Two years ago, I had back surgery.

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A few years I had my bunions removed. And last year I had a bone spur removed. I could not find relief from the pain each one of these problems caused whether walking or sitting. However, after the surgeries, most of the pain has been reduced. Unfortunately, a side effect of the back surgery is nerve neuropathy in the bottom of my foot. Most days, it just feels like pins and needles. But other days, it hurts so much, it keeps me awake at night. Every step feels like I’ve got a large round stone underfoot and it feels like my foot is swollen twice its size. And that’s unfortunate because I’ve got things to see and places to go.

Traveling the World Pain-Free

Traveling involves long flights and walking. With Graves’ disease, I get tired quickly, so I need to plan rest breaks. I wear sunglasses because bright light bothers my eyes, and of course, they also look good on me too. This sensitivity can affect travel, especially in bright light situations or when I can’t control it. It wasn’t until recently that I realized I always closed my eyes in the car– not while driving, of course. My vision at night is also affected, so I like to do things that are important to me during the day.

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Pain Management

I’ve had to adjust, as I suspect we all do when we get older. I suspect we will all have to travel with some chronic pain eventually. Each journey starts with a well-thought-out plan that should always start in consultation with a trusted physician. Pain management is an important process. Establishing a long-term relationship with a healthcare professional provides valuable insights and personalized advice for your specific condition. Unfortunately, as a military spouse, that can be a tricky proposition.

If your doctor gives the green light, it’s time to initiate a plan. Make sure you keep all your prescriptions in their original containers. Like underwear, pack enough just in case you get delayed. Pack them in your carry-on bag, alongside some snacks and the extra underwear.

One of my favorite things to do is get massages and acupuncture. I have also received toradol injections. They worked for a while, but it ultimately wore off. I also love getting traditional treatments whenever I get the chance. Some of them give me some relief, others are just a new experience to add to the bag. However, I suggest you remain open to local non-evasive practices as you travel. Some of the things I’ve tried are physical therapy, meditation and mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, hot and cold therapy, hydrotherapy, cupping, aromatherapy, reflexology, and therapeutic ultrasound. No matter what, make sure you advocate for your own health. I have had to fight for the treatment I have received, because most insurance companies are more interested in masking pain and not finding the root cause.

Navigating Airports and Flights

Airports, with their expansive layouts and lengthy flights, can pose physical challenges, especially for those dealing with chronic pain. Opt for as much comfort as your budget allows, steering clear of center seats in economy to give yourself more room to move and stretch. Don’t shy away from seeking assistance; request a wheelchair if needed, ensuring it’s reserved when booking your ticket. Additionally, considering a TSA Pre-check can streamline the security process, alleviating the stress of the airport hustle and providing a smoother journey for travelers with physical health considerations.

To further enhance your travel experience, remember to request extra time for boarding and disembarking. Wear comfortable shoes to ease the strain on your feet, stay hydrated throughout your journey, and don’t hesitate to ask or pay for upgraded seats for added comfort and space. These extra steps ensure a more enjoyable and manageable travel experience, even with chronic pain.

Embrace Nature and Seek Comfort

Traveling with chronic pain doesn’t confine you indoors. Embrace nature through short walks or hikes, offering a natural remedy for stress reduction and alleviation. But always take your physical level before tackling new adventures. I used to enjoy spin class, but that’s where I injured my back, so I don’t do that anymore. Consider destinations like the beach or mineral hot springs, where saltwater’s bromide-rich properties can help soothe muscle aches and soreness.

Enhance your travel experience by researching travel insurance policies, adding an extra layer of peace of mind with coverage for unexpected health issues. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep, wearing appropriate footwear, and planning your activities to maximize efficient transportation. Make sure to prioritize rest to maintain mental and physical well-being throughout your journey. By incorporating these practices, you can make travel more manageable and enjoyable, even with chronic pain.

Adaptation and Adjustment: Modifying Travel Plans for Chronic Pain

Travel-induced stress can exacerbate mental and physical challenges associated with chronic pain. Traditional Eastern remedies have gained global recognition for their holistic approach to health and well-being. Acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate energy flow and promote balance. Herbal teas, often derived from various plants and roots, are celebrated for their therapeutic properties. They address a range of ailments from digestive issues to stress relief. Meditation, rooted in ancient Eastern practices, serves as a powerful tool for calming the mind, reducing stress, and fostering mental clarity.

Together, these time-tested remedies exemplify the Eastern philosophy of harmonizing the body, mind, and spirit for overall wellness. Counteract this with meditation—download a meditation app and take a few minutes to calm anxieties associated with travel.

Travel Exercise Plan

Prepare your body for the journey ahead with regular exercise. Gradually build stamina instead of transitioning abruptly from your sofa to a Grand Canyon hike. Comfortable walking shoes are imperative—prioritize comfort over style, especially for those with specific foot conditions. Pack essentials for pain management, including essential oils, a water bottle, pain patches, and compression socks. Amid the planning and precautions, remember to infuse a sense of fun.

Traveling with chronic pain presents challenges. But with careful planning and a positive mindset, you can create memorable travel experiences. So, pack light, move at your own pace, and remember: don’t let chronic pain hinder your exploration of the world’s wonders.

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Comments

  1. Pamm

    Thanks for the post, Stacey. I am now able to be on my feet for 90 seconds before the pain becomes unbearable. And I get to navigate three airports soon. Only one of which is small.

    Off to the back surgeon in January!!

    1. Stacey A. Peters

      Hi Pamm, I should have consulted with you because I’m sure you also have a few tips that make traveling more comfortable. So you’ve decided to go the back surgery route, too. I looked long and hard for other options, but the technique is much less invasive now that it makes more than a little sense. I wish you the same success, my friend.

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