Archive for the ‘Health Information’ Category

I found this article in my inbox today:

Travel Musts to Stay Fit & Not Get Sick

Wow, so articles and blog posts have gone the way of scripted TV. I guess we now shove product endorsements (commercials) into the middle of our work. Arg. Then again, I’ve got the luxury of a high paying day job these days, so I suppose I shouldn’t throw stones at writers who are just trying to earn a living.

I posted this link because despite its multi-product ad format, it’s not totally worthless. The carry-on tips (minus the specifically advertised products) aren’t bad. The exercise tips are okay, I guess. I might even try a couple of them.

Here are a few more things I’d suggest if you want to stay healthy on the road:

  • Take your favorite immuno-booster of your choice* for a few days before you get on a plane.
  • Wash your hands early and often. You’re probably hanging out in more public places and touching more stuff than you do at home.
  • Eat nutritious food–especially fresh fruits & veggies–every single day. I like to go to farmer’s markets at my destinations–it’s a fun “travelly” thing to do that also supports my health.
  • Walk. Especially on a plane or train, get up and walk at least once every hour. Get your blood flowing and your lymph system draining so that your body’s natural defenses can do their job to the best of their ability.
  • Sleep. It’s tempting to spend days sightseeing and nights dining, theater-ing, or clubbing. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably need your rest when you’re on the road. I need more sleep when I’m traveling because I’m very active, and my body needs the time to rest and repair itself. Or I crash, and that’s no fun.

As always, be aware that I am not a doctor, nurse, or any form of medical professional. This is not medical advice. Talk to your doctor or medical professional before you travel.

* Like vitamin C, multi-vitamin, Echinacea, St. John’s wart, Airborne…whatever works for you. Assuming of course that you don’t have RA, Crohn’s, or any other auto-immune disease that makes immune boosters bad for you.

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Yeah, that's me in a goofy pose and a big hat

A big part of my reason for writing this blog and starting my own line of travel guides for people with hidden disabilities is my firm belief that getting up and going on travel regularly improves my physical, mental, and emotional health.

Now I’m getting proof:

Office Ergonomics – Why Sitting Will Kill You

Note that the post above is not for the faint of attention span. The author’s a scientist–in fact a roboticist from NASA–and he writes like a scientist. Why does he know so much about human ergonomics? Because he’s got to study them in order to create robots that can negotiate varied environments (like the Mars landscape) by themselves. From a certain point of view, he knows more about how people move and don’t move than many medical professionals.

The upshot of his post–doing nothing but sit all day is bad for us. To maintain optimal health, we need to move around in as many different ways as possible, as often as possible.

I know that I sit all the damn time–lack of motion is part and parcel of being in moderate to severe chronic pain. Even when I try, my at-home routines revolve around sitting.

That’s not so when I travel. I still have to sit often when I’m on the road, but my usual patterns change radically. Instead of sitting for hours at a time with my computer in my lap, I tend to move around all day–walking to and around attractions, getting in and out of  cars, jostling around on public transit, etc etc. I sit only to rest and to ride when I travel. Otherwise I’m moving around in a variety of ways, getting my “cross training” in every single day. I even stretch more when I travel than at home. Try as I might, I can’t create this kind of active routine at home–it only works on the road.

So, I try to get onto the road as often as I can. Sometimes it hurts more, but there are so many great distractions that it’s easier to forget and ignore the pain. And in fact, the movement of travel decreases the musculoskeletal aspect of my pain significantly. Now I know why!

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This isn’t a travel thing, but it certainly is a chronic pain thing:

Chronic Migraines on SFGate.com

I know that migraines suck, but I’ve probably only had as many in my lifetime as this poor young woman has in an average 3-month period. My dearest hope is that treatment advances to the point where Oona can go to college, get a job, and travel the world (if that’s her choice).

Yes, I’ll be doing a migraine-specific post (and eventually, book) here.

No one should have to skip their own life because of pain. No one. Are you listening, grant funders, pharma companies, and research hospitals?

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I went to a routine appointment at the Stanford Pain Management Center this afternoon, and I learned something fabulous. In early 2011 (read here: sometime next month), Stanford Pain Management will begin offering in-clinic acupuncture. That’s right–acupuncture in a western allopathic clinical setting. One of the doctors–a for-real M.D.–has gotten certified as an acupuncturist. I’m super-excited about this for two reasons:

1. Because the acupuncturist is a board-certified M.D. who will be doing the acupuncture treatments in the Stanford clinic, insurance companies will be forced to cover the treatments as office procedures or appointments. (Not sure which–I’ll have to ask.)

2. By offering acupuncture in their clinic, Stanford Pain Management is saying to the whole world that top-tier allopathic doctors believe in the efficacy of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain.

For the last several years, Stanford has been fairly quietly working on the leading edge of what I call complimentary medicine. As a matter of routine, Stanford’s OB/Gyn surgery center offers a *free* hour-long mind-body session (with a board-certified gynecologist) to every surgical patient. Why? Because several Western scientific studies have shown that the meditation and breathing techniques taught in these sessions decrease surgical complications and speed up recovery time.

The Stanford Female Urology clinic has done clinical trials on meditation and gentle exercise as treatment for IC and other painful bladder conditions.

I feel blessed to be able to get treatment at an allopathic center that buys into the radical notion that alternative treatments may be seriously effective, and are worth studying in a western clinical setting to get some actual data. Then, should that data come back conclusively in favor of the alternative treatment, they take the next step and offer it to their patients.

The more different types of treatment options I have, the better I’ll feel, and the more and further I’ll be able to travel…

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Taken while doing nothing at the condo on Kauai

No doctor I’ve ever met actually recommends traveling in the week or six following an operation. But family emergencies, weddings and funerals, go-or-you’re-fired business trips, and “My Buddies Skied Vail and All I Got Was This Lousy Titanium Pin In My Fibula” situations happen.

So here’s my advice, which does NOT NOT NOT substitute for medical advice on how to deal with traveling after a recent surgery.

Talk to Your Doctor

Even if it’s intimidating and you don’t want to, you must talk to your surgeon if you plan to travel less than 6 weeks after any surgery. Make that six months after a major surgery. At the doctor’s office, take notes. Then, do everything your doctor says, to the letter and spirit of the law. Doc won’t be on the plane or in the car with you, and if you’re traveling far, you may not have access to comparable medical care for hours or even days.

While you’re in the doctor’s office, be sure to get a note explaining any implants or devices that might make it difficult to pass through airport security. Metal pins, plates, and rods, shunts and port-a-caths for medication, pacemakers and defibrillators, and various other medical goodies are all permitted on board planes–but they make security an (even bigger) pain, and you might not be used to dealing with that sort of thing yet. A letter from a physician can help smooth the way with the TSA.

Bring Pillows

Wherever on your body you were operated upon, it’s likely that an extra pillow or two will help make you more comfortable both in transit and in your bed-away-from-home. Bring the neck pillow for the plane flight, and perhaps a small rectangular one for lumbar support. If you’ve had knee or ankle surgery and need to elevate a limb, an extra pillow is always welcome. And plenty of pillows can help prop up a recently post-op traveler for a more comfortable night’s rest.

If you’ve had one of those surgeries, swallow your pride and get yourself a donut pillow. Think about it this way–do you want to sit comfortably, or do you want to look cool/stoic/whatever to a bunch of strangers and acquaintances?

Bring Ice Packs and Heat Packs

It can still be difficult to bring pre-frozen gel packs on board planes. Instead, bring an empty ziplock freezer bag, and ask a flight attendant to fill it with ice for you. If you’re stuck at the airport for a long time, you can do the same thing at any bar or fast food joint at the gate. Heat packs are easier–you can get these neat little hand-warmers that motorcyclists use. I’d also pack my full-sized heating pad and my favorite gel-ice pack into my checked bag for added comfort while I’m at my destination.

Move Slowly, But Move Often

Surgery increases the risk of blood clots in the legs. Long-distance air (0r bus, or car, or train) travel increases the risk of blood clots in the legs. When you double up on these risk factors, it’s doubly important to get up and walk frequently, no matter where you are. Even if you’re in a marathon meeting on a business trip, insist on getting up to walk for at least 5 minutes every single hour of the day. Same goes for long plane flights or train rides–I know it’s boring to pace up and down the aisles, but do it anyhow.

Even fidgeting and wriggling and stretching in place keeps the blood moving. Check out some stretches that are easy to do in tight quarters.

Rest Early, Rest Often

Getting a good night’s sleep is never so important as after a recent surgery. The more recent the operation, the more rest you need. On business trips, do the work that’s necessary, go back you your hotel room, recline, then sleep. Make use of room service if it’s available rather than going out to eat. The more time you can spend sleeping and resting, the quicker you’ll heal.

If you’re on an unavoidable trip to a family-style gathering, make arrangements to stay in the most physically and emotionally restful environment possible. That might mean shelling out extra bucks to get a hotel room rather than crowding into a house where a lumpy pull-out couch and constant emotional tension can’t be avoided. Especially in times of strain, like funerals and even weddings, it can be crucial to have a private space in which you can decompress in peace. Once again–show up to necessary functions, do the minimal amount of socializing, then retreat to your hotel to sleep lots and lots.

Stay Smart

Think before you act, no matter how strong you think you are despite your recent injury and surgery, or how necessary it might appear to put in extra work hours, or how much pressure you feel to stay late to make sure family and friends are taken care of. How much use will you be to family and friends if you get dizzy and pass out? What will happen to your business deal if you pick up an infection and land back in the hospital? How much extra damage to an already traumatized limb will you do if you push it too far too fast?

The Bottom Line

If you can stay home for the first few weeks after minor surgery and the first few months after major surgery, do it. But if you must travel, be as careful and thoughtful as you know how. Follow your doctor’s orders, recommendations, and suggestions. Treat your physical safety and comfort as top priority. And sleep whenever you can.

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This awesome little study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine: that means that real, hardcore scientists thought it was worth something.

Fibromyalgia and Tai Chi

Makes me want to go out and find my nearest yang-style Tai Chi class, even though I don’t have fibro.

What really makes me feel good about this study and its publication is its focus on an integral mind-body treatment for a complex chronic pain condition. This is great precedent, and I look forward to seeing more like it.

Also…get out of your house and take a vacation. It’ll make you feel better–for reals!

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Technically, this isn’t about travel. But it goes straight to my heart, or rather to my pelvis.


I plan to listen if I can, partly because I’m not a big believer in raw food diets or veganism. Neither is my holistic nutritionist, interestingly enough. And to eat that way on travel would be to add a thick layer of complication to any vacation. But…I want to know what science and rationale these ladies can provide, and the descriptions of how they’ve been helped by this diet.  I try to keep an open mind, or at least an open ear for tips on diminishing my pain.

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