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Six tips for flying with knee pain

August 23, 2013
There are multiple causes for knee pain.

Knee pain sure can crimp (and cramp) any boomer’s travel plans.

Flying with knee pain requires travelers to think and plan ahead, and to be prepared to make the best of a bad situation.

It turns out that knee pain is one of most common ailments, accounting for about 1 in 3 of doctor visits for all bone or muscular problems. There are many causes for this common condition, including injuries and medical conditions, which are better explained on medical sites like the Mayo Clinic and WebMD. But this post is focusing on managing knee pain when you fly.

Unfortunately, I have first-person experience in flying with knee pain. As we were about to leave for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa, the pain in my right knee suddenly (and uncharacteristically) flared up so badly I thought I would cry. I already knew I had two tears in my meniscus and a bit of arthritis–but before this, the pain was under control.

The night before we were to travel, I was in so much pain I couldn’t climb the stairs or pack. All I could do was treat my knee pain symptomatically and wait for it to subside. My BFF Betty came over the evening before to help me pack–just in case we could make it the next day.

Almost like a miracle (or perhaps, because of the icing and anti-inflammatories I had taken), the pain lifted late that evening. Here are some of the tips I learned about managing knee pain when flying:

1) Know the reason for your pain

If you have pain, you obviously need to have it diagnosed. In my case it took an MRI to determine the source. Having that diagnosis and consulting with my internist allowed me to know what I should or shouldn’t do—and what might exacerbate the pain.

Since my doctor had already taken an African safari, of course, his sage advice was: Don’t miss it if you can possibly go. I decided to follow doctor’s orders!

2) Secure an aisle seat

When flying with knee pain, it’s best to have room to extend your affected leg on long flights. If you can pay for extra legroom (aka premium seating), it’s worthwhile. Regardless, try to reserve an aisle seat so you can extend your leg (of course, depending on the site of your knee pain, you’ll choose one side of the aisle or another). Check out SeatGuru.com to find out the pitch and width of the seat you’re reserving and try to elevate your leg whenever and to whatever extent possible.

3) Don’t be embarrassed to reserve a wheelchair at the airport

Before you travel, call your air carrier and request a wheelchair. This was a first for me so, of course, I was a bit embarrassed but I was more concerned about re-injury than vanity, and worried about that awful pain flaring up again. Believe me, the wheelchair escort was a lifesaver in making the long trek from one terminal at Heathrow to another.

4) Get up and stretch during the flight

With center aisles seeming to get narrower and narrower, it can be challenging to walk the aisle. But since you have an aisle seat, get up to stretch your leg muscles at least several times during the flight. (It also helps prevent deep vein thrombosis).

5) Wear comfortable shoes

Getting to and through an airport involves plenty of walking so be sure to wear comfortable fitting shoes that offer support.

6) Keep pain relief in your back pocket

If your physician has prescribed anti-inflammatories or painkillers, be sure to carry an adequate supply with you, just in case. I also took along a reusable icepack, which I wound up “gifting” to another traveler who injured her ankle. If your doctor has suggested you use a knee brace, take it along, too. Even if you don’t use any of these supplies, they’ll surely provide peace of mind.


Also on More Time to Travel  


This post is part of a linkup with Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Mondays.


 Any hints to share on flying with knee pain?

  • Reply
    noel
    August 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Wow what a tough thing to experience especially for a long flight. I’m sure the end portion of going to a safari was the trip of a lifetime, even under those conditions.

  • Reply
    Helen
    August 27, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Any advice for those of us with back pain?

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

      I’ll let you know when I get there, Mickey 🙂

  • Reply
    Barbara Bunce
    January 12, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to know that others share physical problems and challenges when travelling.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 12, 2015 at 9:41 am

      Those of us who are “of age” don’t always talk about our ailments—or conversely, don’t stop talking about them:-)

  • Reply
    Josie
    January 12, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Hi Irene,

    We baby boomers, (and older, like my husband Conrad), can relate to your situation. Thanks for the advice reminder.

    My own knee pain comes and goes, too, and is the result of a nasty bit of broken-off bone floating around in there. When that piece lodges in just the right spot, Ouch!

    Icing and anti-inflammatories are a guaranteed relief. I’ll even prophylactively ice my knee prior to a big hike or walking tour, for instance. Before a flight the icing could help, I think.

    I also wear a knee brace — a simple stretchy fabric, or fabric and velcro thing — which does a good job of keeping everything tight. It works so well, I never would have believed it.

    Wishing you safe and happy travels,
    Josie

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 12, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Thanks for sharing your knee relief strategies, Josie!

  • Reply
    Michele Peterson ( A Taste for Travel)
    January 12, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for the tips! Good advice especially on requesting a wheelchair – I got one for my 80-year old mother when we were stuck in long lineup in Frankfurt airport and it made a great difference in terms of helping her save her strength and avoid injury.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 12, 2015 at 10:07 am

      Although there are blips, most airport personnel are very accommodating!

  • Reply
    santafetraveler
    January 12, 2015 at 11:55 am

    I’ll share this with Steve who gets knee pain. I often use a wheelchair in airports as I have asthma and going long distances can wear me out. For the first time, Steve took one on our way home from Mexico- his knees were acting up. We were a two wheel-chair family. Quite a sight!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 12, 2015 at 10:15 pm

      Some terminals can be very far from each other when you have a bum knee! Here’s to knees that don’t act up!

  • Reply
    Tom Bartel
    January 12, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Some very good tips here. I always try for an aisle seat, then fall asleep with my foot sticking out and get it stepped on or run over by the drinks cart. The only thing I would add here is my six tips, would be to have a cocktail, then repeat five times.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 12, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      Hi Tom,
      You’ve mentioned the universal antidote!
      Best, Irene

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    January 12, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    I like Tom’s method! When these maladies pop up they’re always a surprise to Pete and me. Are we really that old? Yes, unfortunately.

  • Reply
    noel
    January 12, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    All great suggestions and tips for knew, foot or walking related issues while on a flight Irene. I’m so glad I don’t have any walking problems going on for the moment.

  • Reply
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    January 13, 2015 at 7:56 am

    This was a very timely topic as Richard re-injured his knee (also a history of a torn meniscus) a few days ago when we left Cartagena and had 2 airports to stand in line (tickets, immigration, customs) and navigate around as well as a few hours of flying. Fortunately he had aisle seats for both legs but it was a long day. Your tips were great, especially the wheelchair which we’ll remember in the future if this or any other problems crop up. Mobility and health are everything for a traveler!

  • Reply
    Patti Morrow
    January 13, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Excellent advice! The only time I have knee pain is when I’m on a long-distance flight. It’s excruciating. I’ve done all of the above at one time or another.

  • Reply
    Denis Gagnon
    January 13, 2015 at 9:52 am

    This is very helpful advice. I have been fortunate so far in avoiding any kneee pain but I know my day is coming!

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    January 13, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Good tips. I don’t suffer from knee pain much, although I have to be careful with one of my knees. I have arthritis in my toes and have to worry about how I treat my feet. I wish you relief from your knee pain, but it’s nice to read both in your post and in the comments how the aches and pains that creep up as we get just a little bit older aren’t stopping us from travel altogether.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      January 13, 2015 at 12:49 pm

      I feel so fortunate that with tincture of time, my knee seems to have completely recovered. My mother-in-law used to have a saying, “If you live long enough, everything goes away.” 🙂

  • Reply
    Shelley
    January 13, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    I’m glad you were able to make the African safari! Thanks for the great tips… we’re getting more of those aches and pains too but best to keep moving!

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    January 13, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    Sounds like great advice if you need to fly and are having knee pain, and I hope that I never need it!

  • Reply
    Lisa Chavis
    January 16, 2015 at 8:59 am

    So much good information here! The reusable ice pack is a wonderful idea. Sorry you had to go through so much pain – but I’m glad you got to go on safari! 🙂

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    January 18, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    Helpful tips for travelers with any type of physical ailment Irene. I think it’s especially important to get up and stretch during a long flight. I always like the window seat and hate disturbing people to walk the aisle, but try to do it a couple times during those long hauls.

  • Reply
    Cathy Sweeney
    January 18, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Ever since he got a knee injury playing volleyball several months ago, the hubby has been traveling with a knee brace which really seems to help. I like all of your other suggestions, too. It’s always good to get up an walk around — kneww pain or not!

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    January 18, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Excellent advice!! I too have arthritic knees and I’m always glad for ideas on how to relieve the pain!!

  • Reply
    Knee Pain at Night
    April 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Knee pain is a symptom of several different conditions and injuries, many of which are often characterized by knee pain getting worse at night. Understanding the cause of your pain is the first step to being able to treat it and get back to a good, uninterrupted night’s rest.

  • Reply
    Barbara Longbrook
    October 31, 2015 at 10:31 am

    What works for easing my knee pain is a bulkhead seat. I can keep my leg stretched out for the whole flight without worrying about it getting in anyone else’s way (unlike an aisle seat). I fly Norwegian and it doesn’t cost extra.
    There’s also no problem with anyone in front of me reclining their seat. Two birds with one stone! :-))

  • Reply
    Crazme
    February 4, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Great advice from everyone. I am about to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Australia, and I am worried because I had an arthroscope on my left knee which seems to have flared up again… Should I wear a brace for the WHOLE Flight or take it off for periods of time? How often is it NECESSARY TO WALK down the aisle ? to keep circulation going. (I really would like to sleep to combat jet lag, in either direction…

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 5, 2016 at 9:27 am

      If I were you, I would check with your knee surgeon to see what he/she thinks. Then you’ll have one less thing to worry about on your trip!

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