learn, unsolicited travel how-to's

How to Travel with an Injury

My doctor describes my running injury–a stress fracture of the femoral neck and labral tear–as a saga, because it has seemed never-ending, to both of us. When something went terribly wrong and felt incredibly painful on a run in late January, I never thought I’d still be using crutches and getting MRIs, CT scans, ultra sounds, injections, and physical therapy five months later (and counting).

In the ideal response, I would take a break from travel and rest my stubborn hip, but with this prolonged saga, it’s nearly impossible to put my life on hold. As difficult as crutching (we’re way past accepting I use this as a verb) in the city is, traveling is an outright obstacle course. Whether you’re in a boot or cast, have a walker or crutches, here are the five habits I’ve adopted to make traveling solo as painless as possible.

  1. Leave early. You have to plan for the extra time it takes to bring more than just your body and suitcase, and for how much slower you move while injured. For once, frequent fliers, don’t allot only enough time to make it on the plane before it takes off; add enough time to not be stressed or frustrated and to board early. The last thing your body needs while healing is stress, and if your injury can be irritated by running or rushing, prevent this ahead of time. I can’t really crutch any faster, so cutting it close is setting myself up for frustration, and airlines and airports provide enough of that on their own.
  2. Follow doctor’s orders. First, don’t shy away from asking the doctor for recommendations, and second, follow them. Anyone who’s seen me walking holding my crutches in one hand knows this is harder than it sounds. We all want immediate results, but your body is on its own schedule. Talk to your doctor about how far you can push it: whether you can exercise, what risks are involved with traveling or walking, and how much activity you can comfortably take on. Then take their advice.
  3. Don’t worry about strangers. I spend way too much time worrying about everyone staring at me on crutches, trying to explain myself to skeptical questioners, and rushing to accommodate others. This is another way to add frustration and risk to travel. Move at a comfortable pace, respect your body’s limitations, and don’t let complete strangers affect your mood for a more peaceful trip.
  4. Have a plan. I recently flew with crutches, a suitcase, and my dog-that requires a bit of planning. I needed my roommate to help me get my suitcase downstairs, my cabbie to get it to the curb, an airline representative to help me inside, and a TSA agent to assist me through security. The more you anticipate any obstacles, the less challenges will make you panic. Lifting that suitcase at all could completely set my stress fracture back, and I had to know in advance how the heck I’d get it to the plane. Then warn whoever’s picking you up to park so they can help lift or assist on the other end. My dad planned ahead by waiting with a wheel chair when he knew I was too embarrassed to request one (see No. 3).
  5. Ask for help. Anyone can empathize with an injury, and travel professionals have seen every ailment in transit. It’s ok to board early, request a wheel chair, ask a fellow passenger to grab your crutches from the overhead compartment, or use that cane security keeps handy. Put your injury first, before your pride or hesitance, to travel while healing.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It’s not going to be fun and it’s not going to be quick, but travel can be painless and manageable with the right attitude and expectations, and a little help from others.

Have you ever had a neverending injury? Share your funny stories to make me feel a little better.


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