An extremely common condition, arthritis affects a huge number of people. Arthritis Research UK estimates that 17.8 million people in the UK live with a form of musculoskeletal condition, including arthritis in all its forms. This equates to nearly 30 per cent of the population. Arthritis is one of the most common conditions we provide specialist travel insurance for here at Free Spirit.
Many people tend to think of arthritis as something that occurs mainly in later life, but it can and does affect people of all ages. In fact, 2.7 million of those in the UK with musculoskeletal conditions are aged 35 or younger, and an estimated 12,000 children have a form of arthritis known as idiopathic juvenile arthritis.
The most common shared symptom is pain and inflammation in the affected areas of the body. Arthritis can occur in any joints and the severity of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, but commonly-affected areas include the hands and fingers, the hips and the knees.
While having arthritis should never come between you and the chance to explore the world, being aware of how best to manage your condition while away from home can help to ensure your break is all you want it to be.
What are the different types of arthritis?
There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related musculoskeletal conditions, but the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both of these types of arthritis have similar symptoms; it’s the causes that differ.
What is osteoarthritis?
As the condition most commonly referred to simply as arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints starts to thin and break down, causing tendons to swell and bones in the joints to rub together painfully.
Osteoarthritis is most common in people over the age of 40 and affects women more than it does men. Developing osteoarthritis isn’t simply a natural part of aging though, and while it’s not known exactly what causes the condition, there are several factors that can make it more likely, such as being overweight or obese, or injuring a particular joint.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
While there is no consensus what causes osteoarthritis to develop, more is known about rheumatoid arthritis. It is an autoimmune condition, which means that it happens when the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. This leads to swelling, stiffness and pain in the joints as their outer covering and the joint cartilage is worn away.
Rheumatoid arthritis can result in other symptoms too, including fatigue, fever, weight loss and chest pain.
Travelling with arthritis
If you have arthritis, chances are you’ll have a number of ways to manage your symptoms in your day-to-day life. However, it is important to be aware that it can be tricky to keep on top of your condition during an elongated break from your usual routine, such as a holiday or trip away.
Here’s how to look after yourself and your arthritis before you go and while you’re travelling:
- Check in with your doctor first. Speaking to your doctor before booking any elements of your holiday can help to give you peace of mind ahead of your trip, and can give you a checklist of things to consider, as well as helpful advice. You may need extra arthritis medication to cover your time away or you may need a medical letter giving you permission to take your medicine to your destination of choice.
- Think about the suitability of your destination. You may want to remain active while you’re away, but make sure to balance this with days of rest and relaxation. Be aware of how your arthritis affects you and be sure to consider this carefully when choosing accommodation and activities. For example, it may not be a good idea to opt for a resort at the top of a hill, or one that’s a long walk from the beach. On the other hand, you could consider a spa hotel with steam room and sauna facilities, which could prove beneficial in soothing your symptoms.
- Make flying as comfortable as possible. If you will be travelling by air, think about how you can give yourself the most fuss-free and pain-free experience. You could consider priority boarding to ensure you can board the plane first and with fewer people, ask for a seat with extra leg room to stretch out, or ask for mobility assistance getting you and your luggage to the gate for boarding. When you’re in flight, remember to get up and move around the cabin as often as you can, especially on long-haul flights.
- Choose your suitcase wisely. Go for a lightweight bag that has wheels so you can move it around easily. Try not to pack too much!
- Take care packing your arthritis medication. If you need to take medicine for your symptoms, split your supply across a couple of different bags, so that you still have some with you if one were to go missing. Make sure your accommodation has a fridge if you need to keep your arthritis medication cool.
- Think about the activities you will be doing. It’s generally a good idea not to plan anything too strenuous for your holiday; a relaxing beach break could be perfect. In saying that, swimming is a great low-impact exercise for people with arthritis as the water provides support for the joints while still enabling you to move freely.
- Stay hydrated. Warm temperatures and not drinking enough water can easily lead to dehydration, which can make the symptoms of arthritis worse. Drinking too much alcohol can also dehydrate you and exacerbate your arthritis, so take care not to overdo it.
- Last but by no means least, don’t go anywhere without having travel insurance for arthritis in place. Standard travel insurance companies can often exclude people with existing health conditions, but specialist arthritis travel insurance policies like ours mean you don’t have to travel uninsured. At Free Spirit, we can offer travel insurance for osteoarthritis, travel insurance for rheumatoid arthritis and travel insurance for a wealth of other pre-existing bone and joint conditions, meaning that you can get on with simply enjoying your holiday.