Photo is taken from an aeroplane window. It shows the clouds and sky with a beautiful orange/red tint of sunset and the plan engines.
Photo credit: Emiel Molenaar via Unsplash.
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Taking a long haul flight with Fibromyalgia can feel daunting. You may be asking, “does flying affect Fibromyalgia?

In my experience, it does. It’s, therefore, worth taking the time to prepare for flying with chronic pain to minimise symptoms as much as possible.

In this post, I discuss pain management while travelling and share my tips for travelling with chronic pain conditions, such as Fibromyalgia. With some careful planning, it can be done!

Why FLying Affects Fibromyalgia

Flying isn’t easy for Fibromyalgia patients. The simple change in atmospheric pressure can be enough to trigger a worsening of symptoms for some people.

Plus, sitting up and having to stay in the same position for hours can be a painful experience. Not to mention, it is easy to become dehydrated, which can exacerbate symptoms.

However, there are a few tips I can share to help make travelling with chronic pain that bit easy to do. These are taken from my own personal experiences and I hope they help you too.

I’d also love to hear what your tips are in the comments below so please do share your thoughts.

My Experiencing Flying Long Haul With Fibromyalgia

I recently took a trip to California, a place that has long been on my bucket list. It was great to finally be able to go and I was super excited.

However, there was one thing I pushed to the back of my mind when I booked the trip… the getting there part. I’ve never been a fan of flying.

I mean, who is? Being stuck 35,000ft above the ground in an uncomfortable seat is not my idea of fun. I’m sure many of you feel the same.

Unfortunately, it was a necessary evil and I had not one, but two long haul flights to contend with. A 7-odd hour flight from Edinburgh to Philadelphia and a 6-hour flight from Philly to LA.

Oh boy, that’s a lot of time to be stuck in a seat! I learned a lot about flying with Fibromyalgia from this trip.

Tip 1: Try To Split Up Your Travel Where Possible

During my Cali trip, I found the first flight was bearable. However, the second became problematic for me because my knee decided it had had enough and gave me hell- ouch!

One tip I learned from this trip was that it would have been sensible to split up my travel over a couple of days. Trying to do everything in one day resulted in me suffering from a flare up of my chronic pain.

I’d, therefore, recommend allowing more time for travel and splitting up your journey wherever possible.

Tip 2: Make Sure Your Immune System Is Strong Before Flying

Air on a plane is partly re-circulated. I am personally quite susceptible to catching the cold if someone is coughing and spluttering on a plane.

It’s happened more times than could be considered a coincidence.

I, therefore, like to make sure my immune system is as strong as possible before flying. Strategies that help me include eating healthily (which you should do anyway) and boosting my vitamin c and zinc intake.

I’ll also take some echinacea and I find a product called Advanced Biotic from Vital Plan very helpful for strengthening my immune system.

A-Biotic contains herbs such as Andrographis, Berberine, Garlic, Cat’s Claw and Japanese Knotweed to help support immune function. It can be purchased directly from the Vital Plan website.

Additional Tip:

If using herbal therapies, such as Advanced Biotic, start them a few weeks before travel. Begin with a low dose and slowly build up to the full dose to minimise the potential for herx reactions or side effects.

Your body will have time to become used to the product and you can continue to take it while you travel to ensure your immune system is as strong as possible.

Tip 3: Wear Comfortable Clothes

A cotton dress, stretchy leggings, my comfy sneakers and a cosy cardigan was my outfit of choice for flying to California. Oh, and I wore a vest top under my dress instead of a bra.

There is nothing worse than clothes digging in and causing pain. Wearing loose-fitting clothing is a must if you want to be as pain-free as possible.

Aeroplanes can also vary in temperature and I can find that I am freezing one minute and too hot the next (maybe that’s just me!). Therefore, I dress in layers.

I also take some fluffy bed socks with me so that I can take my shoes off but keep my feet warm and comfortable.

Tip 4: Take Your Own Food

If you follow a particular diet to help with your Fibromyalgia, e.g dairy or gluten-free, then often you can ask the airline in advance for a meal that fits your dietary requirements. But let’s face it, aeroplane food sucks!

There is nothing to stop you from taking your own food on board (even if you don’t follow any dietary restrictions).

You can take most solid food on a plane. However, you need to make sure any liquids (including food in sauces) are placed in containers that are 100ml or less and are put in a resealable, transparent plastic bag for going through security.

There may be restrictions on meat and dairy products so double-check with the airport what is allowed.

Having plenty of healthy snacks readily available means that you won’t have to go long periods of time without food. This will help to regulate your blood sugar levels and prevent any crashes.

Tip 5: Pack A Travel Pillow

It’s a fact. Aeroplane seats are not comfortable.

Plane seats do not offer great back support and so taking a pillow in your hand luggage to place behind your lower back really helps with your posture and thus reduces pain. I really love the Tempur Travel Pillow.

You may also benefit from neck support, though the travel pillows that go around your neck aren’t always that great as they are so full that they can push your neck forwards. I wish I had looked into this more before I went because I probably would have invested in something like this.

Tip 6: Move As Often As You Can

Although a window seat used to be my preference, I now try to book an aisle seat wherever possible. This means that I am free to get up whenever I want to.

When flying, try to stretch regularly and if you are able to, get up and walk up and down the plane. Staying in the one position for hours on end is not a good move for someone with chronic pain and movement is so important.

Below are some examples of stretches that you may find useful. Remember, when doing these stretches, ensure you remain comfortable throughout and stop if you experience any pain.

1. You can stretch your neck forwards and to the left and right- hold it there for 10-20 seconds and release.
2. Rotate your foot from the ankle, both clock-wise and then anti-clockwise- this helps with circulation.
3. Keeping your legs facing forwards, rotate and twist your spine to the left and then to the right.
4. Lift your arm up and then place your palm just below your neck, this will help to stretch both your arm and also your back if you lift your posture up and push your chest out slightly.

Tip 7: Massage Sore Areas

I found it useful to gently massage areas that were sore and achy throughout the flight. If you are not able to do this yourself, hopefully, you will have a willing travel buddy to help you out. Photograph shows a decorative garden at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. There are blossoming tress, a water feature with hedges planted in concentric circles in the center and LA can just be seen in the smog in the distance.

Tip 8: Pack Pain Medication

Make sure to pack your usual pain meds if you take them. Before travelling,  check if you need to provide a doctor’s note/certificate at airport security and also make sure the drug is legal in the country you are travelling to.

It may also be worth chatting to your doctor before travelling to see if additional meds may be helpful. And, if you don’t usually take pain medications it’s also helpful to speak to your doctor so that you have some to hand should you need them.

If you’d rather avoid pharmaceuticals altogether, do your research about other therapies that may be helpful. Personally, I find Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF) very effective for helping to reduce my pain and use a device called the Oska Pulse.

If you are interested to learn more, you can read my review of the Oska Pulse here.

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If you want to purchase the Oska Pulse, you can save $55 by using the code FEBRUARYSTARS when buying directly from the Oska Wellness website.

Tip 9: Prepare For The Impact Of Jet Lag on Your Fibromyalgia

Jet lag is not fun for anyone and when you mix jet lag and Fibromyalgia, it can really take it out of you.

My top tip is to make sure you plan for rest days when you arrive at your destination. How many rest days you need will be dependent on you and your individual needs.

Travelling from Scotland to the US was okay for me as I left in the morning and when I arrived, it was pretty much time to go to bed. I then slept enough to feel okay when I awoke the next day.

Coming home, however, was a different matter. Personally, I find travelling through the night is a killer, especially as I cannot sleep on a plane.

Leaving in the morning and arriving in the morning (the next day) is tough. I had one short nap in the afternoon and then stayed awake the rest of the day and went to bed at a normal time.

But, I had insomnia for about 6 days and found myself falling asleep during the day. My body clock was totally out of whack!!

I went back to following my own advice for getting a good night’s sleep and in time it worked. But you should prepare for this in advance and give yourself up to a week of rest when you get back if you can.

I also had a session of Reiki soon after I returned, which helped with my sleep.


What are your tips for travelling with chronic pain conditions, such as Fibromyalgia? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Author

Hello, I'm Donna. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 2013 and started this blog shortly after. After my health declined significantly the following year, I decided to become my own advocate and searched for answers. It took two years but, in 2016, I finally discovered I had Lyme Disease. On February Stars, I share my personal journey back to better health; discussing what has helped me and the mistakes I've made along the way. I also cover topics on self-improvement, managing symptoms and living life to the fullest with chronic illness.

6 Comments

  1. Great article! Certainly advice that anyone with a chronic illness should pay attention to before boarding a plane for a long flight. If we don’t prepare properly for the flight it could ruin the entire trip we have left ahead of us. Thanks for sharing! It’s awesome that you got to visit California, it’s also on my bucket list. I just visited Edinburgh which was near the top of my bucket list too!

  2. Thanks so much for your kind words. Absolutely, it’s so important to make preparations for trips away so we can make the most of them and enjoy ourselves. That’s fab that you visited Edinburgh- very close to where I live 🙂 Hope you had a great trip!

  3. Hello. Great advice! Super worried about traveling to Ireland from California next March. My daughter was dx with early onset of fibromyalgia. She also has a disc bulge L5. We booked this trip when she wasn’t quite as symptomatic as she is now. And I’m pretty worried. Almost regret booking the trip 🙁

    • Thank you. It sounds like your daughter is in a similar position to where I was. We booked the trip to California (from Scotland) when I was doing fine and then all of a sudden my health took a nose dive. When you look at my posts where I write about California on here, you might be led to believe that I was doing okay. The truth is I have no idea how I did what I did because my health was far from being good. It was a struggle. But it was a good struggle and I have no regrets because it was one of the best experiences of my life, despite how I was feeling. I think my biggest advice would be to face it as it comes, don’t set your expectations too high and allow for a lot of rest. I would highly recommend investing in a Tempur travel pillow, I so wish I had mine for that long flight. I would also prepare for a lot of rest and recovery after the trip. I did not allow for that and forced myself to go back to work, which my body just couldn’t cope with. I pushed too much and my body couldn’t cope with that.

      Also, I know a lot of people are resistant to the idea but look into mobility aids and anything that could enable your daughter to be able to do more without exhausting herself. I wrote a post about fibro and wheelchairs and it might be worth reading that. Even if it’s just help in the airport etc, anything to minimise the stress she places on her body is a good thing.

      My only other advice would be to look into Vital Plan in terms of treatment for fibro as it’s made such a difference to me. You have months until the trip and it’s worth exploring all the options available to you 🙂 Good luck!

  4. Great article! I recently had my first two long-haul flights. It wasn’t as bad as expected. Although I haven’t read you article before my trip, I did almost the same. Travelling in layers is especially important in my opinion.
    I first had an 1:15 flight and then almost 2 hours before my intercontinental flight so I had enough time to eat an early lunch and stock up my drinking supplies. Dehydration on an airplane is the worst thing in my opinion! My flight to the US took 8:30 and it didn’t seem so long, because I could watch the Great British Bake Off. (love it!)
    I had absolutely no problem with jet leg which was great. Flying back was a little bit more exhausting, because it was a flight during the night, but a little child (probably about 4 years old) screamed almost the whole time, even before departure. Of course I couldn’t sleep at all.

    • That’s really great you managed the long-haul flights Maggy. Great minds think alike and all that 🙂 I agree, keeping hydrated is really important. You feel really crappy if you become dehydrated and I always like to sip away at water all through a flight. It’s always great to get into tv shows, movies or audiobooks as they make the flight pass so much quicker.

      I hate flying through the night too as I can never sleep and they always exhaust me. It must have been even worse with a screaming child!

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