Five tips for traveling with degenerative joint disease

Degenerative joint disease of the spine can produce painful and annoying symptoms which can make traveling a daunting task. However, there are steps you can take to help minimize the pain and other symptoms you experience, and allow you to enjoy your family vacation.

What is degenerative joint disease?

Primarily caused by the natural aging process, degenerative joint disease can develop in the spine when the cartilage within the spinal joints wears down. The joints of the spine — called the facet joints — serve as the connection point for the vertebrae and allow the spine to bend and twist. If the bones in the facet joint begin to rub together, inflammation, pain and stiffness can develop, and the formation of bone spurs becomes a possibility. When bone spurs form and put pressure on a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord, additional symptoms such as radiating pain, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness can appear.

Travel tips for degenerative joint disease sufferers

Planning ahead and being smart are the keys to traveling while dealing with the effects of degenerative joint disease. Some of the ways that you increase the chances of enjoying your trip include:

  1. Medication. Try to take over-the-counter pain and ant-inflammatory medications approximately one hour before you board a flight or begin a long car ride to help make the trip more tolerable.
  2. Stretching. Stand up, walk around and stretch your back as often as possible. If you are on a flight, let the cabin crew know that you have back issues so they will let you stand as often as needed. When driving, stop every hour or so to stretch your muscles.
  3. Support. If you are going to be seated for long stretches, bring a pillow or roll to provide support to the area of your neck or back that has been affected by degenerative joint disease.
  4. Pacing yourself. It can be tempting to overdo it on vacation, so try to plan your trip wisely to allow for ample time to rest your back.
  5. Hot/cold therapy. Alternate heat and ice on the affected area as often as possible during your trip to help reduce inflammation. This is especially important at the end of the day.

Many of these tips are also part of the typical treatment regimen for patients who have been diagnosed with degenerative joint disease of the spine. Often, a combination of conservative treatment options can provide relief from pain and other symptoms when utilized for several months. However, patients who don’t experience a reduction in symptoms following conservative treatment may consider spine surgery.

At Laser Spine Institute, our minimally invasive spine surgery is often the clinically appropriate first choice and provides many advantages over open neck or back surgery.^ Contact us today to learn more about our outpatient procedures, which may be able to help you find relief.