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Key Considerations for People Living and Travelling with RA
By Saada Branker

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Patrice de Peiza, OT Reg.(Ont.), ND, MScCH

“If I could tell people with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) one thing, it’s to manage your stress,” says Patrice de Peiza, a registered Occupational Therapist, and a registered Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto. “There’s good stress versus distress, and there are elements of both in planning for a trip.”

People living with RA can probably attest to that. Research published in the European Journal of Rheumatology has indicated that psychological stress can cause flare ups of some people’s RA. No doubt the worrying and lack of sleep associated with taking a trip can be stressful on the body.

When managing arthritis, how best to reduce the distress and ultimately the symptoms that trigger stiffness and pain? Given all that can happen on travel day, it helps to put thoughtful planning into action well before leaving your home.

1. Make a list of your essentials and go light.

Choose light weight for your carryon and your luggage. If you overpack, that’s more weight which is more stress on your joints, advises Patrice.

2. Inform customer service.

Tell your travel provider or place of stay about your accessibility needs days before your departure. Find out early to what degree they will be accommodating.

3. Factor in climate and pack a long sleeve shirt, sweater, or shawl in your carryon.

It may be hot at your destination, but that may mean indoor waiting areas are air conditioned. Some people with RA can feel symptoms emerge when exposed to a lot of blowing cool air.

4. Plan your diet.

Buffets, foods with preservatives, late eating due to the time difference can all contribute to joints flaring up. “If staying with friends or family, let them know of your diet restrictions in advance. Be prepared to accommodate your own needs.”

5. Get there early.

There’s a lot going on at the airport or station, says Patrice. “The earlier you get there the more relaxed you are at your gate. You’ll be waiting and more able to speak to people about your needs.”

6. Create a plan to conserve energy.

“There are four Ps of conserving energy: Planning, prioritizing, pacing, and positioning,” says Patrice. “Prioritize what tasks you need to do and what you can delegate to others. Pace your activities. Positioning: So that’s like, am I going to do this activity seated?” Sitting to do something saves a lot of energy. At the same time, Patrice advises balancing that because mobility is key, and sitting for long periods of time can trigger adverse effects. If you’re on a plane, try walking up and down the aisles or tapping your feet and making circles by rotating the ankles.

7. Plan to rest daily at your destination.

Have a good sense of your walking tolerance. Scan the environment for curb cuts, benches, or planters to rest on. “Start on the smaller route first. You could always gradually build up if it’s easier for you. … build breaks into your day,” says Patrice. “A little bit of planning on the front end, and you can enjoy your trip to the fullest.”

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