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Question about a flight to Korea with Sciatica

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,321
Hello! My name is Amanda. I've been living with severe sciatica for 3 years now from my lower back all the way down my butt, thigh, calf, and foot from a crushed disc, and it has been worse in the last year and a half. It got to the point where I lost the use of my legs, ending my career as a ballerina and left me trapped in the bed in unbearable pain. I had lumbar laminectomy surgery done on 8/1/2007 where the disc was removed and my spine fused together.Lately it has been really bad in my calf. If I relax or even stretch, my calf erupts in pain and it feels like rocks rolling through (and you can even see it on my skin when it does). When this happens, I am down for a day or two where I cant do very many activities like I used to. I was wondering if someone can help me on a question. I'm supposed to be flying to Korea sometime in the next week or so with my husband to pick up our son who we're adopting from there, but I am really nervous about the 22 hour flight to Seoul. I am worried about how my legs will react with the cabin presure inside the plane. I'm not sure if I will be able to go for fear of being stuck on that plane in intense unbearable pain, and I'm wondering if anyone else out there has gone through this too and what might help me decide whether to fly or have my husband go over alone.I am hoping someone may be able to help! Thanks alot!


  • If you upgrade to business class they have bedchairs. I've never gone so far in a plane I just go by what a friend has told me. Bring your pain meds and have insurance in case you need treatment. Unfortunately I really don't know about cabin pressure and it's effects on you. Is it possible your husband and his sister could go instead of you. You'll see the baby when he/she gets here. What did your Dr. say? Perhaps he had a patient who went on a long flight. I hope all goes well with whatever you decide to do. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • There are several ways to deal with this. I have made numerous trips back and forth from Japan to Washington D.C. with horrible radiculopathy, both lumbar and cervical.

    First off, the cabin pressure doesn't have any effect on the pain, since the cabin is pressurized to an approximate equivalent of 8,000 feet above sea level. It would be less of a pressure change than driving up into the mountains for an afternoon.

    Take off and landing have more of an effect, since there's a change in the G force on the body. not enough to bother normal people, but with a spine issue, it can create discomfort.

    Hydration! Especially on these long flights, it is so very easy to become dehydrated. By making sure you drink plenty of water, it will do a couple things. First it will make you feel better just simply being hydrated and second, you will manage to get up and walk more often, to use the bathroom. Take a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you since a lot of people traveling to and from Asian countries are sick and they won't be so careful as to wash their hands.

    You can also do things like speak to your doc about a TENS unit. Since it is difficult to carry ice packs or heat packs, a TENS unit has saved my butt several times. That coupled with a letter from the doc, also got the aircrew to clear me a spot on the floor next to a bulk head with a pile of blankets. With the TENS unit running, a little medication and wrapped in a pile of blankets, the trip can go quite quickly.

    If you can upgrade to Business Class, that helps tremendously, but most of the flights over this way are booked full in first and business class, so don't count on that as the best and only option. You might get lucky since this is one of the few "off season" weeks to travel. With the heavy US military and Department of Defense presence here, there's a lot of air traffic.

    If you can avoid flights that have any connections to Las Vegas or Manila, that will help as well.

    Wear loose comfortable clothing and shoes that you can slip on and off without having to untie. Carry a tooth brush and some facial wipes and that will also help you to feel better. Periodically getting up to freshen up, will make you feel better just in general and again get you out of your seat and moving.

    Oh and I do recommend the aisle seat, just so that you don't worry about disturbing someone else with getting up and down all the time.

    I hope this helps.

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  • :D hi and welcome to the forum! we are here to offer you support and answer what questions we can. i don't have much more to offer as far as advice.. there are lots of good ideas already!! good luck on your flight!!! Jenny :D
  • hi when i travel by plane {no very often!}i always take pain killers on board /acticare unit and a memory foam neck pillow,the neck pillows look daft but they are so handy you can use then around your neck or put in the small of your back.the advice in the above post is excellent hagland c
  • Since you been recently worse, have you seen your doctor, had a new MRI? Do you know what is going on with you or how bad it might be?

    The thought of getting on a plane for any reason for 22 hours almost make me have a panic attack. I have S1 nerve damage, so sitting/standing/really anything besides reclining and laying down really triggers the pain for me. If I can't immediately lay down, it gets beyond horrible. Is this the same for you?

    How long are you able to sit right now? Is it even remotely reasonable to expect that your body will allow you to do this?

    You must be so excited to see your new baby!! But, what will typically happen if you end up doing this and your body rebels? Will you be able to function, hold him, go anywhere? Or will you be bedridden? If you end up bedridden, will you be able to make the flight home? So 44 hours total flying?

    Hon, if it were me, I would stay home and be in the best physical condition I could so that I could fully enjoy the first few days/weeks/months with my new son. I would hate for the first weeks to be spent writing in pain while someone else cares for the child. (When I push myself and get in bad shape, I barely can take care of myself let alone anyone else.)

    Gosh, this is so tough. Just be honest and realistic with yourself. What does your gut tell you to do?

    BTW, Welcome to Spine Health!

    ( (HUGS) )

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  • Ballerina79,
    I'm a retired physician pain specialist and have a couple of thoughts about your pain.

    You can gage how well you will tolerate the flight by how well you handle a long trip in a car. If that is difficult for you, the long flight will get pretty hard on you.

    The kind of symptoms you have right now are very well known after lumbar disk surgery. The treatment is not more back surgery.

    I suggest you go see an interventional pain specialist and ask about your pain. I expect you will hear a recommendation about a spinal cord stimulator. They don't always work, but when they do, the results are absolutely wonderful!

    Live well!
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