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Does flying and cabin pressure affect osteoarthritis?

Q) I'm wondering if you have any research knowledge regarding flying and air pressure on the human body, particularly osteoarthritis, or if there's any reason for not flying or only flying for a certain length of time. I recently had a total hip replacement which seemed to be aggravated by an 11-hour flight from London to San Francisco, followed by a 4,000-mile car journey. I realise that a person with osteoarthritis shouldn't stay in one position for a length of time. I'd appreciate any comments you can make or tips on any travelling I might do in the future.
Glenys, Edenbridge, Kent (Autumn 2007)

A) There's research on the relationship between barometric pressure and pain in joint diseases. Patients sometimes tell me that they can predict deterioration in the weather, such as a fall in barometric pressure. The same mechanism may result in an increase in joint symptoms when flying as the usual flying cabin pressure is equivalent to about 8,000 feet. In your case I think you've correctly identified the enforced inactivity as an additional cause of your symptoms. Don't forget you probably did more walking around on your trip as well. On future long-haul flights I'd suggest taking the advice of the airlines and keep your joints moving while sat in your seat in addition to getting up for a stretch regularly. If possible try and persuade the check-in people to give you a seat with extra legroom.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Autumn 2007 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

Send your questions for Dr Tom Margham to enquiries@arthritisresearchuk.org


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