Can I Fly With a Knee Brace: Everything You Need to Know
At least a quarter of Americans suffer from frequent knee pain. If you are among them and you're also a frequent traveler, you might wonder, "Can I fly with a knee brace?"
In fact, TSA policies permit travelers to wear metal-free knee braces through airport security. You can also wear a brace containing metal. However, you'll be required to remove it at security. Beyond wearing a brace, you can take other steps to make your next flight more comfortable.
Should I Use a Knee Brace for Knee Pain?
Bracing can be an effective component of pain management and rehabilitation for knee pain. If you're an older American among the 25% of people suffering from frequent knee pain, the most likely cause is osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis contributes to pain and instability in joints, including the knees. According to the Mayo Clinic, bracing can be an effective component of treatment for osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis most often affects individuals over 50. However, knee pain from injuries, overuse, and misalignments affect people of any age.
Other knee problems that require or can benefit from bracing include:
- Torn ligaments, including the ACL, MCL, PCL, and LCL
- Torn meniscus
- Illiotibial band syndrome
- Patellofemoral stress syndrome
- Patellar subluxation, or dislocation
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. Countless other knee conditions can benefit from the support and compression bracing provides.
It's always important to follow your doctor's advice when managing knee pain. If your doctor or physical therapist recommends a knee brace, you should follow his or her advice and wear it consistently.
Can I Fly With a Knee Brace?
You follow your doctor's advice and wear your knee brace as you go about your day. Can you wear it when you travel though? Should you?
The answers are yes and yes. If you wear a brace for knee pain, you can and should wear your brace on a plane.
TSA guidelines permit knee braces in both checked and carry-on bags. The TSA website also includes the disclaimer that individual TSA officers are responsible for making the final decision regarding items permitted on a plane.
So you'll likely be able to take a knee brace on a plane. However, you might still wonder, "Can I wear a knee brace on a plane?" Again, the answer is yes.
Traveling with a Removable Brace
Different types of knee braces have different structures and use different materials. Depending on the components of your brace, you may not even need to remove it as you pass through airport security.
If you're using a metal-free brace, you should be able to keep it on at the security checkpoint. If your brace includes metal parts, you'll need to remove it to pass through the checkpoint.
Traveling with a Brace or Supportive Orthopedic Device That Cannot Be Removed
Some conditions require braces or other supportive devices that cannot be removed. Some people also have joint implants or surgical screws. These, too, can set off metal detectors at the airport.
If this happens to you, it can be inconvenient and potentially embarrassing. However, it need not stop you from traveling.
First, your doctor may supply you with an identification card or other documentation for your device. Importantly, however, the TSA does not require this documentation for orthopedic devices or implants. TSA officers will also conduct additional screening regardless of whether you have these documents.
If you cannot remove a brace or you have a metal implant, alert a TSA officer as you approach the security checkpoint. He or she will require you to submit to an alternative form of screening. This might include a wand, physical pat-down, or full-body scanner. It might also include a swab test to detect explosive substances.
If you don't alert a TSA officer to a device or implant and that device sets off the metal detector, officers will follow the same procedures above.
Importantly, none of these procedures—and no knee condition—should prevent you from traveling. If you have concerns or encounter difficulties during a trip, the TSA offers a host of resources for travelers with disabilities.
Beyond the Brace: How Can I Travel With Bad Knees?
Bracing is one component of pain management and treatment for various knee conditions. If you wear a knee brace at home and you need to travel, your brace should travel with you, but what else can you do to make flying with knee pain more comfortable?
1. Take Care of Your Knees at Home
You're concerned about traveling with knee pain, and your concerns are valid. However, for most people, travel is occasional. Most people spend the majority of their time at home. This means that your efforts to care for your knees on a daily basis at home can significantly affect your comfort and mobility when traveling.
If you have been suffering from knee pain and have yet to see a doctor, make an appointment before your trip, if possible. Knowing the cause of your knee pain can help you to address it.
If you already have a diagnosis and treatment plan, follow it. Wear your brace consistently at home. Use ice and heat as your doctor or therapist recommends. If you've been prescribed medication, take it consistently.
Also keep up with physical therapy. Stay active in ways that are consistent with your doctor's recommendations. Don't become sedentary as this can increase stiffness and swelling. Take care, however, to avoid overusing or putting undue stress on your knee. Let your pain be your guide.
A final component of at-home knee care also carries over to your travels. Wear comfortable and slip-resistant shoes. Supportive shoes can take some pressure off your knees. Slip-resistant shoes are also important for the traction they provide. Whether you are at home or traveling, safe and comfortable shoes can prevent twists, turns, and falls that contribute to further injury.
2. Consider Your Knees When Choosing Your Seat
The best seat for an individual with knee pain is the aisle seat. If your pain is localized in one knee, the best aisle seat is the one that allows you to fully extend your most painful knee. Choose this seat whenever possible.
If your airline charges a fee to select your seat in advance, you'll need to balance this cost with your physical comfort. Taking your chances on the day of your flight is an option. Depending on your boarding position, however, you may find all of the aisle seats taken by the time you board a crowded flight.
Airlines also offer seat upgrades with extra legroom. Again for a fee, you'll be able to select your seat in advance, and you'll be assured of additional room to stretch your legs.
3. Consider Your Knees When You Pack
How you pack your luggage can affect your physical comfort when flying with knee pain. As you pack your suitcase, monitor its weight, and be sure that the load is one you can tote comfortably.
Your knees are load-bearing joints. Any additional weight on your shoulders impacts your knees. Even pulling a rolling travel bag adds strain on your joints.
Also keep in mind that you'll be asked to keep smaller carry-on items beneath the seat in front of you. If you need to place an item on the floor, it will restrict your ability to stretch your legs. If at all possible, keep the area beneath your feet clear.
A final consideration when packing is medication. If you use prescription or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain medication, pack enough to get you through your trip. Also remember to pack enough in an accessible carry-on bag so that you'll be comfortable during your flight.
4. Move and Stretch
Take advantage of the legroom you've secured as much and as often as possible during your flight. Flex your joints to prevent stiffness. If you have stationary exercises that can be completed while seated, use the time on the plane to get a set done. Especially during a long flight, get up and walk to the bathroom.
5. Consider Breaking Up Your Flights
If you're like most people, you probably plan your trips to minimize your travel time. If you're traveling long distances with knee pain, however, efforts to minimize your travel time can actually increase your pain.
If your journey is long and you can choose between non-stop and connecting flights, consider choosing the connecting flight. Your knees might thank you for the opportunity to move unrestricted during even a short layover.
6. Ask for Assistance
If your knee pain makes walking long distances difficult or you're concerned about being able to walk quickly enough from Point A to Point B, consider requesting a wheelchair at the airport.
You can and, if possible, should do this at least 48 hours before your flight. Contact your airline to make your request or to inquire about the types of assistance available.
Additional advantages of requesting a wheelchair at the airport are often priority screening and priority boarding.
Traveling with Knee Pain: With the Proper Tips, the Sky's the Limit
If you wear a knee brace for support at home and you've wondered, "Can I fly with a knee brace?," the answer is yes. Flying with a knee brace is not only possible but advisable. When you travel, you can take additional steps to increase comfort and mobility on a plane. Most of these steps require a bit of forethought and planning. However, the payoff of more comfortable travel is worth the effort.
As you manage life with knee pain, count on PowerRebound Knee Bible for the latest advice. Whether your next journey is a plane trip around the world, a car trip to the grocery store, or a walk to the mailbox, we have you covered.