Ahhh, the winter holidays. As the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” There’s magic in the air and in the twinkling of lights all-around—lots of delicious food, surprises wrapped in gorgeous paper and colorful bags. We get quality time with our family and friends, whom we miss all year but still manage to get annoyed by their presence within about two days. Many of us are probably craving traditions and merriment even more than usual this year, with everything we have survived.

However, unless our family and friends live with chronic back pain, it may be difficult for them to understand how much effort it takes to attend the festivities. Sure, we want to see family and friends celebrate holidays and ring in the New Year. But we have an extra set of considerations, like:

  • Is it safe for me to travel, given the potential for contracting COVID-19?
  • Will traveling be too hard on my body?
  • What will the furniture be like where we are celebrating? Will it cause a pain flare for me to sit and visit?
  • How will I carry my medications? How will I remember to take my medications if I’m out and about, away from my regular routine?
  • How will I accommodate my food allergies or special anti-inflammatory dietary needs?

Alas, I have put together a Holiday Survival Guide with some tips and tricks that help make it all a little more bearable. Hopefully, this list can help you.

Did you know that the TSA and major airlines offer accessibility services to those of us with chronic pain and other disabilities?

Only you can decide how safe you feel about traveling. While most of us might like to avoid flying, driving long distances may simply be too painful. So, if you have to fly, you may as well make it as easy as possible.

Did you know that the TSA and major airlines offer accessibility services to those of us with chronic pain and other disabilities?

Once you’ve booked your flight, you can call TSA Cares at (855) 787-2227 or email TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov. I haven’t ever sent an email; I prefer to communicate over the phone to ensure clear communication for things like this. But I’ve done this several times now, and it has always made traveling much more comfortable, and I’ve met some very kind TSA workers.

When you call (or email) TSA, you may inform them of your diagnoses, service needs, and whether you will be traveling with prescription medication. For instance, I request wheelchair service because carrying heavy luggage and walking long distances is hard on my body. Because I have a spinal cord stimulator implant, I cannot go through the X-Ray machines at the security checkpoint, so I give them that information.

You must call at least 72 hours ahead of your flight to make these arrangements. Depending on your needs, someone will greet you with a wheelchair at the airport. Then, they’ll bypass the security lines and get you through screening right away. After screening, they’ll take you down to the terminal to wait for your flight. Since you’re receiving disability/medical assistance, you will likely be granted early boarding privileges.

Upon arrival at your destination, someone will be waiting to escort you off the plane and on to baggage claim. Easy peasy! You can learn more at www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support.

Always be prepared for the worst possible furniture.

I love my sister, and I love visiting her house for the holidays. She’s a fantastic cook, loves to be a hostess, and I appreciate the traditions we have developed in our adult years. However, her furniture leaves a lot to be desired for my spine—lots of hard, flat surfaces and overstuffed furniture with no lumbar support.

Woman Sitting On Sofa Suffering From Back Pain

So, I carry my own cushions and supports with me to stay and visit without putting myself into a flare so bad I can hardly walk. I use this coccyx cushion in my car to drive and carry it into restaurants, my sister’s house, or anywhere else I may be going. I was embarrassed to travel with it at first. After a while, I thought, “Do I care more about being embarrassed or being comfortable?” Comfort wins every time. This cushion helps prevent my sciatica from flaring, which means it is worth its weight in gold.

I use this Posture Logic ergonomic support in my office chair. But it’s also useful for long car rides or to take to my sister’s house to slip it on the back of most any of her chairs. It’s easy to slip on and off because of the stretchy straps, and it’s very lightweight, so it doesn’t use up any of my spoons to carry it along with me.

Use pillboxes that make your life easier.

I take medications in the morning with breakfast, after lunch, again at night, and right before bed. Yes, that is four different times of every day that I have to take various medications. It can be way too easy to forget to take my meds when I travel, or my routine is off for some reason. I have to make it as easy as possible to stay on schedule.

This pillbox is excellent because it covers a whole seven days, with four compartments in each day. The best part is that you can pop out a single day from the larger container and carry it with you. This is an outstanding feature if you are out celebrating, lunching, or traveling when it comes time to take your meds. You can simply carry one day worth of medications in your purse or pocket.

Of course, if you are traveling for more than one week or need backup medications or extras in case of bad flares, you’ll need to look for other options that best suit your needs.

Order your own food, and have it delivered to your destination.

Besides having a laundry list of food allergies, I also try to stick to a simple anti-inflammatory diet to prevent pain flares. This can be extra tricky if you are traveling or attending a holiday meal at someone else’s home. Even if my family or friends offer to accommodate my needs, I generally buy my own food and have it delivered or carry it with me.

Daily Harvest is my favorite pre-prepared food. I use the meals as supplements to my regular groceries. Everything from Daily Harvest is organic, vegan, gluten-free, corn-free, and delicious. The food is frozen, but it doesn’t taste like frozen food; it tastes like freshly picked fruits and vegetables.

For staple items and non-perishables, I order from Thrive Market. Thrive Market is perfect for finding easy-to-carry snacks in addition to allergy-friendly ingredients for meals. This also ensures that no one in my family accidentally poisons me. They don’t know what ingredients to look for or that maltodextrin is made of corn. Dextrose, too.

Suppose you have a local restaurant that accommodates allergies. In that case, there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a meal to-go and carrying it along, either.

In conclusion: Be kind to yourself.

It’s so much more comfortable being away from home if I prepare for these things ahead of time. I tend to enjoy my time with family and friends much more when I’m not writhing in pain or getting sick in the bathroom after dinner. We’ll never control every environmental aspect of our lives, but we can be as prepared and comfortable as possible.

Merry everything and happy always, from your pals at SpineNation.