Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE
Author: Dr Sarah Jarvis, MBE, General Practitioner (GP)

Dr Sarah Jarvis is the Clinical Director of the Patient Platform, an active medical writer, broadcaster, and the resident doctor for BBC Radio 2.

Originally posted: 16th Sep 2021

Osteoarthritis is the commonest form of arthritis – joint problem – in the UK. It affects at least half of people over 55 and can lead to joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Hips, knees, neck, and lower spine are most commonly affected, although many people have osteoarthritis of the fingers too.

While there's no reason you shouldn't holiday if you have osteoarthritis, it's well worth doing some planning to make sure your holiday is magical, not miserable.

Plan your travel

If long walks through the airport pulling your luggage aren't feasible, you can book a wheelchair at the terminal. You'll need to contact the airport well in advance. If you can travel in the middle of the week when airports are less busy. Likewise, if you're taking public transport, remember that an early flight may be a bargain - but there are fewer trains and buses in the early mornings and you may need to make more changes, which means more walking with your luggage. So think about how you're going to get to the airport as well as what happens when you arrive.

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Don't stiffen up

If you have osteoarthritis, you're likely to notice that your joints stiffen up after you've been sitting still for long periods, particularly in a cramped position. If you're driving to the airport, plan in time to stop and stretch your legs. Try and book an aisle seat or a seat at the front of the cabin, so you can get up and walk around regularly.

If you're travelling within the UK, opt for a train rather than the bus – it's much easier to leave your seat on the train.

Be prepared with pain relief

When you're travelling, you're likely to be doing more walking than usual. You may also be sitting in an uncomfortable position, unable to get up, for longer than usual. If you have 'as needed' medication to take when you have pain, you might consider taking it regularly on travelling days, rather than waiting until you're in discomfort.

Hotel Swimming Pool

Support it

If you have osteoarthritis, you may use a walking stick, knee brace, or possibly a walking frame. A foldable walking stick may be easier to travel with, especially if you don't use it all the time. You may use a pillow for support for a painful joint – an inflatable version would take up less room in your packing. Do remember that while you can take a walking frame through airport security, it's worth contacting the airport in advance. Whether or not you'll be able to take your frame into the aircraft cabin will depend on the airline's policy.

Dress for success

Tight or uncomfortable clothing can make joint discomfort worse – opt for stretchy or loose clothes. The opposite is true for shoes – even if you want to dress up while you're away, make sure you have well-fitting shoes with good ankle support while you're travelling or walking. Look for shoes with well-padded insoles to reduce pressure on your joints. Practical rather than glamorous is definitely the order of the day where footwear is concerned.

Don't skimp on sleep

While your routine is bound to be different on holiday, you should always build in time for sleep. If your pain is eased by resting your knee on a pillow, ask the hotel to provide extra or take your own.

Swimming Pool Greece

Hot stuff

Many people with osteoarthritis get relief from hot or cold packs – find a travel version to take with you. Warm water can help ease joint pain, so it's worth seeing if you can find a hotel that has a sauna or hot tub. Even if you can't, build in time at the end of the day for a warm bath – check with your hotel if they're offering a bath rather than a shower in your room.

Pace yourself

Exercise is a crucial part of keeping your joints mobile, strengthening your muscles, and avoiding increased stiffness. However, you don't want to ruin your holiday by overdoing it. Plan any trips to include plenty of breaks and don't be unrealistic about what you can manage. Bear in mind that walking on the flat is likely to put less strain on your joints than very uneven surfaces – so while you do want to stay active, you might want to take the cable car rather than climbing up the side of the mountain for the view.

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Get wet

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise if you have osteoarthritis – the water supports your joints so it doesn't put any strain on them, but you're exercising your muscles. And even if you don't swim regularly at home, a warm-weather holiday is a perfect opportunity to get in the pool.

Be insured

It's essential to get reliable health insurance when you're travelling – especially if you have a medical condition. If you don't declare arthritis, your travel health insurance may not be valid – and that could be deeply painful to your pocket.

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Frequently Asked Questions

A pre-existing is any medical condition for which medical advice, diagnosis, care or treatment was recommended or received before applying for a travel insurance policy. Some conditions we'll need to know if they have ever been present, whilst some within a certain time period.
Medical expenses abroad and repatriation can be very expensive. Having travel insurance that includes cover for existing medical conditions is the best way to ensure you are protected from financial loss in the event of having to cancel the holiday or receive emergency medical treatment abroad.

It is really simple and quick to do! After you've told us about your trip details and answered some medical history questions you can add your pre-existing conditions, one by one, for each traveller. You'll only need to enter your details once, it's all online and there's no need to call, or provide details of your conditions in writing.

We’ll only show you quotes from providers who are able to cover emergency medical expenses (including repatriation to the UK) if you catch the virus whilst travelling abroad.

Some of our providers are able to offer additional cover, such as cancellation cover should you catch COVID-19 or have to self-isolate because of suspected symptoms before departure. We’ll make it clear who these providers are when you’re comparing quotes so you can choose the policy that is right for you.

This doesn’t apply to all insurance providers, so unless otherwise stated, for all other sections of cover, you wouldn’t be covered if making a claim as a result of COVID-19.

For more information, we recommend reading our full guide here.

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