Updated: Aug 4, 2020
June 8th, 2020
It’s been a little over a year since my most recent trip to Las Vegas, and the first time I’ve visited Vegas with my Ankylosing Spondylitis diagnosis. Vegas is not a destination that’s really high on my list--as this blog attests, I am drawn more to vacations that involve escaping metropolitan scenes instead of plunging head-first into the crowds. But last May was a girl’s trip, where a group of us (Stacia and I, along with my mom and Stacia’s mother and sister) together agreed on a destination to hang out and have fun!
While Vegas is an exciting place to vacation, it’s not particularly friendly for us chronic pain sufferers, especially since getting around on the strip often requires a lot of time on your feet. And since we wanted to get the most out of our three-day stay, we didn’t always schedule much time for rest.
To make matters worse, on this particular trip I was not the only member suffering from chronic pain. In fact, those of us with autoimmune and autoinflammatory disorders outnumbered those without. While I battle the numerous challenges brought on by Ankylosing Spondylitis, my mother suffers from a different autoimmune condition that is also accompanied by inflammatory arthritis that affects many of her joints, including her hands and feet. My sister-in-law battles two autoimmune conditions which cause similar inflammatory consequences, some of which are aggravated by sun exposure.
All of our conditions are intensified by simply doing too much, which presents a challenge for any vacation, but especially Vegas. After all, isn’t that the appeal of Vegas: overabundance (there’s too much to do!).
Any chronic pain sufferer knows that it’s impossible to avoid pain entirely. There’s always pain somewhere, and at some point pain becomes the prognosis itself. The name of the game is minimizing the pain as much as you can, and keeping your vacation expectations for yourself realistic. Here are some tips I learned from my last trip to Vegas, and some tips I wish I knew of beforehand!
Walking Las Vegas
Planning Your Las Vegas Adventure
Unless you spend weeks in Vegas, I’m not sure it’s possible to see and do everything. That’s what makes research and planning key. For our trip, each of us had places we wanted to visit, restaurants we wanted to eat at, events we wanted to attend. High on the list were the fountains at Bellagio, the Canal Shops at the Venitian, a restaurant in the Cosmopolitan, the Hershey’s Chocolate World inside New York New York, the aquarium at Mandalay Bay, and a Cirque du Soleil show at MGM Grand.
Getting from point A to point B within any of these casinos can be quite the trek, so walking from the Canal Shops inside the Venitian to our show at MGM Grand in one day was out of the question. So instead of walking here, there and everywhere in a day, we planned our daily excursions around a quadrant of the strip, spending each day between 3-4 casinos close to where we parked the car (day one was spent at the Venitian, Harrah’s, the LINQ and Flamingo).
This type of planning doesn’t need to be at the expense of spontaneity, however. During our trip, we still managed to fit in some 10 am gelato at the Venitian, mid-afternoon frozen margaritas at Ceasar’s Palace, and a revisit to the Venitian on our final night, getting a bit lost in the maze of the casino floor while trying to find late-night food that didn’t cost a fortune!
Parking and Transportation Options
When I first visited Vegas over a decade ago, most casinos offered free parking. That is no longer the case. Unless you intend to ride the monorail (which travels most of the length of the strip, but only on one side), you’ll need to utilize multiple parking garages if your chronic pain is intensified by activity.
Planet Hollywood, Wynn and Circus Circus still offer free self-parking. The Cosmopolitan offers a reasonable parking rate that caps at $10 for 24 hours. The same is true of Excalibur and Luxor.
To help reduce the amount of walking you’re doing, my advice is to find parking that’s central to the area of the strip you’re visiting that day. For instance, the day we visited the Cosmopolitan, Luxor, New York New York and Bellagio, we parked at New York New York.
Other Considerations for Visitors with Chronic Pain
Vegas Heat and Arthritis
While cold weather is known to aggravate arthritis symptoms, I find the same to be true with hot weather. For me, excessive heat tends to increase the inflammation, pain and swelling I experience in my hands and feet. As Las Vegas sits in the basin of the Mojave Desert, you can expect oppressively high temperatures during the summer months.
Though we visited Vegas in the middle of May, temperatures still reached mid-to-high 90s during the day. While we spent most of our time in air-conditioned casinos, the outdoor walks from casino to casino force you to sizzle in the desert sun right alongside hundreds of other people packed onto the long sidewalks. One way to avoid the desert heat is to plan your trip for a cooler month of the year.
Seating with Back Pain
Ankylosing Spondylitis prevents me from sitting comfortably in certain types of seating for too long. Stool seating without proper back support is problematic. I like to avoid wooden or metal seating as well, since the lack of cushioning sends waves of pain reverberating up my back that become unbearable after an hour or so.
A good solution to hard seating is to carry around a quality memory foam seating pad. I don’t love the idea of lugging an awkward seating pad with me everywhere I go, but then I also don’t expect every restaurant, bar, and event center to come with sufficiently cushioned seating either! It’s hard to overstate how important good, supportive seating is.
Managing Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can’t be avoided, but there are tools available to help make the pain more manageable. One of the best tricks to managing chronic pain is to get enough rest, both rest at night and periods of rest during the day. One thing that might help you get some good rest after a long day on your feet is a trip to the cannabis dispensary (fully legal in the state of Nevada).
Additionally, I always arm myself with a variety of pain lotions and OTC anti-inflammatories. I find that any pain cream with lidocaine works fairly well, but for pain cream prescription diclofenac sodium works best. And a good ice pack can help ease back or neck pain at the end of a long day.
Vegas Reopening During COVID-19 Pandemic
I chose the timing of this post to coincide with the Vegas strip’s phased reopening in June. While it appears casinos have made dramatic changes to the way they’re operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to know what you can expect if visiting Vegas in 2020, especially if traveling with an autoimmune disease or while on immunosuppressant medications.
It appears casinos are taking measures to keep guests socially distanced during gaming, offering disinfectant and hand sanitizer between card hands and upon request, and even taking guest temperatures as they enter the casinos. While this is all great, keep in mind that there’s still measurable risk associated with public places during the current pandemic. Additionally, it appears that, while casino, hotel and restaurant employees are required to wear masks at all times, some establishments offer guests the choice to wear masks or not. In my humble opinion, this is dangerous in the midst of a pandemic.
I hope this bit of advice helps you better plan your trip to Vegas with chronic pain. I also hope that if you’re battling an autoimmune disease or other illness that involves increased susceptibility to the COVID-19 virus, that you think twice about your vacation plans and do your research before traveling to the Las Vegas Strip.