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How to Recover as Quickly as Possible From Travel-Related Pain Flares

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I recently returned from a fabulous three-day tour of Washington DC with my daughter. I boarded the outgoing flight using only a tripod walker, intermittently. I boarded the returning flight in a full-time wheelchair. My knees completely failed. UGH.

Has this ever happened to you? How did you cope? How did you recover? What tools did you need to return to your so-called “normal?”

How I coped:

To be honest, I didn’t cope very well at all. I was devastated at not being ambulatory on the way home. How could I have deteriorated so, within a span of three days? What was wrong with me? Each step I tried to take was a painful, knee-buckling mess. Even with my walker, I was no longer self-sufficient. As the Uber dropped us off at Reagan National Airport, I wondered how I would make it to the door. Thankfully, I had called Southwest Airlines prior to arriving to apprise them of my need for assistance. They were more than happy to help. I hobbled inside and was directed to ask any uniformed employee for assistance to the gate. “Well,” I thought, “maybe I should just try to make it through security first…” Bad idea.

The security gate is not set up to supply anyone with a wheelchair and an assistant. When I got there, they were hard pressed to find me the appropriate Southwest employee. Note to self: “Security is separate.” However, after a long wait, they found someone who would assist me all the way through the boarding processes. They even wheeled me out the the Uber pickup line and waited with me once I was back in my home city. Kudos to Southwest Airlines for stepping up to make my experience as painless as possible. I will definitely fly with them again!

How I recovered:

By the time I returned home, I was spent. I was in so much pain that I thought I would have to begin using a bed pan. I live with my elderly father, who was kind enough to bring food to my room for the next few days. He also continued to care for my dog, as I was laid up for about one week. We laughed together, calling ourselves the, “sick and shut-in” and I took it easy until I could walk again. He brought my seated walker and two canes to my bedside, and I muddled through.

Tools I used:

I tried using a topical analgesic on my swollen, bruised, misshapen knees (my friends swear by it), but it caused my ears to start ringing, and my ankles swelled up like balloons. I had a feeling I’d be allergic to it, as I have a similar allergy to aspirin and NSAIDs. I knew I would have to take great strides to recover from this acute pain episode, so I googled “knee injuries.” I was desperate.

Without using an anti-inflammatory, my options were limited. The most recommended treatment was R.I.C.E. That stands for:


Rest: I had no choice but to rest, as the pain kept me from standing.

Ice: I asked my dad to put some ice in two plastic baggies and seal them. I’m sure we had some ice packs somewhere in a dark corner of our deep freezer, but ice in a baggie on my knees worked just fine. I put a towel between the baggies and my knees, to prevent skin issues. As the ice melted, the bag conformed to my knee and brought the swelling and inflammation down to a manageable level. I used the ice packs constantly for the first three days of bedrest.

Compression: I have a huge box of disability “helpers” in my bedroom, and from there I pulled out my two full-sized knee braces. They are neoprene braces that support me firmly above and below my knee joint. These babies are the real deal. Some may say they are large and cumbersome, but when you are in need of serious therapeutic benefit, these are the way to go. They offer both spectacular compression and encompassing warmth to the joint. They are adjustable for just the right support, and were the key to getting me back on my feet, walking again.

Elevation: Then there’s the elevation. I am blessed to have a firm Tempurpedic mattress with an adjustable base, so I used that to consistently keep my swollen knees elevated above my heart. My fancy bed is great for my hip bursitis too. I sat in my pre-programmed “zero-gravity” position for several days. The numerous health benefits of the zero gravity position are reduced spinal pressure, better circulation and better stress level management. However, if you don’t want to drop the serious “chunk of change” that purchasing a Tempurpedic requires, the same position can be achieved when I use my zero-gravity chair or a bunch of pillows on a regular bed! Nevertheless, my Tempurpedic is probably the best high-ticket item I’ve bought during my disability. It cradles my spine and hips, and I get great overnight pain recovery from this bed. I sleep well too.

In case you were still wondering, R.I.C.E. worked. As I write this, it’s been almost three weeks since I returned from my trip. I’m walking with a slight limp, but without a cane or walker around the house, and I’m wearing smaller, closed knee sleeves daily, to provide some extra support and warmth to my recuperating knees. As I convalesce, I’ve taken time to enjoy all the pictures we took in D.C. I taken time to call friends and family. Most importantly, I’ve taken the time to heal. You can too. Just be patient.

Do you have any great suggestions for how you get back on your feet after a pain flare or injury? I’d love to hear your hacks in the comments below! Share the wealth – help one another.

With love,


Image via Pexels

Originally published: December 16, 2021
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