Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved theme parks. Disney World in Orlando is my favorite vacation destination. But I will be the first to admit that theme parks are not relaxing vacations, especially for kids with juvenile arthritis (JA). Long days of walking and constant activity can aggravate JA joint pain and fatigue.
While kids with JA shouldn’t have to miss out on theme-park memories, the physical demands of such a trip can easily trigger flares. For that reason, I highly recommend renting a wheelchair (or using a stroller if your child is young enough). While you might not think your child needs these aids, consider the following reasons:
1. Conserve energy
Theme park vacations require a lot of physical exertion, from walking around the park to waiting in lines. I was often exhausted before lunchtime. I missed out on some trips because I was unwilling to go on rides with long waits or stand in line to meet Disney characters.
Letting your child rest while you’re standing in line or walking around the parks means they’ll have more energy for rides, meeting characters, swimming, and other fun activities. You’ll be surprised how much more your family can accomplish. Plus, all of those experiences will be much more pleasant for your child because they’re not hurting as much.
2. Prevent pain
Just because your child seems OK on the first day doesn’t mean they’ll hold up well until the last one. JA can be unpredictable, and you shouldn’t trust a low-pain period to last over the course of a vacation. An entire day of walking and going on wild rides can do a number on joints that are prone to inflammation.
Right before my last theme park vacation, I was doing well, with minimal morning stiffness, not too much fatigue, and no joint swelling. But after day two, I needed a wheelchair. Walking around for two days straight caused a flare that lasted for six weeks. My advice is not to risk it.
3. Curb a meltdown
I can be a real killjoy at an amusement park. For example, I remember whining and crying so I wouldn’t have to stand to watch a live performance. While it annoyed my family, I didn’t mean to ruin their fun — it was just incredibly tiring and painful to be on my feet. All I wanted to do was find a place where I could sit and rest.
Chronic pain and fatigue can lead to crankiness, which can be made worse by travel. While a meltdown on a family trip is almost inevitable, ensuring your child is not in a lot of pain or overtired will make it more manageable. Letting your child use a wheelchair may make your vacation go a lot more smoothly and allow your child to fully enjoy their time away from home.
While I recommend a wheelchair for most kids, it might not be an ideal option for everyone. Maybe you have little ones in strollers and can’t handle another set of wheels. Or perhaps your family plans on taking afternoon breaks for a nap and a swim at the hotel pool — this is something my family did a lot.
Whatever you decide, try to keep an eye on your child’s condition. Be open to taking breaks and changing plans. And most of all, do what you can to make the vacation comfortable for your child. Kids with JA go through so much, and they deserve a break to just be kids.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.