Community Ideas: Driving with RA

We recently received questions from our community about the challenge of driving with RA. We wanted to know what our community members on Facebook thought, so we asked: "Does anyone else struggle with driving due to RA symptoms (stiffness, fatigue, etc)? Do you have any tips?" Approximately 175 people were kind enough to respond! Check out what they had to say...

Driving with RA tips

Some tricks that are helpful:

  • I hold the wheel down low, elbows touching my side to reduce pull on my shoulders and neck.
  • Use the lumbar support tilt controls, and change them to keep from getting too stiff from sitting.
  • Put pedal extender on the gas/brake pedal and put the seat as far back as I can so legs can straighten out, move a bit.
  • Keep a small blanket and neck pillow in car for five-minute "rest the eyes" break
  • Crank the tunes to tune the pain away
  • Pace myself
  • Select your car according to ease of getting in and out, motorized adjustable seats, armrests, etc.
  • I get the most comfort by using my armrest and I adjust my chair making sure I am going to have my arms on the rest..
  • Listen to things on the radio that make you peaceful - might sound nuts but if you get upset listening to political stuff don't listen in your car.
  • Heat up your joints and low impact stretches before hand.
  • Stop before your at the point of "I can't do this anymore." Only you know your level of fatigue - stop get out move around when you start to feel uncomfortable is the best way to fight back the driving doom.
  • A well-cushioned seat that is in a good position for you is a must. If need be, get a memory foam (or whatever works for you) pillow and use. If you can reach the pedals move the seat back a touch and use one for your back.
  • When adjusting your seat into position, hold your foot out and do not point your toes. Move the seat up till it is just touching your entire foot. If you have to "point" your foot to drive, this will give much more foot pain.
  • Take lots of breaks
  • I use cruise control as often as possible so I can do circles inward and outward with my ankles while I'm driving.
  • I find it helps to keep my ankles moving!
  • I feel the difference between front wheel drive and rear wheel drive. Front wheel drive has more vibration coming through the steering wheel and I can't drive for more than 30 minutes before my arms and shoulders aching. With rear wheel drive, I can drive for several hours no problem.
  • I try consciously not to grip the wheel too hard.
  • I insisted on electric seats on both sides so when hubby drives I can still move the seat around as I find one position for too long is not good.
  • When my foot is on the brake at a red light the pain intensifies. I will slightly rock or bounce my leg a little with my foot still on the brake.
  • It does help to sit up and back because you then can change positions somewhat
  • I try to keep my elbows propped up on window/door or console.
  • Keep journeys as short as possible. And immediately medicate upon getting home....unless I'm not driving.....if not.....meds on board!
  • Extra mirrors for when my neck is stiff also helps.
  • Sometimes I can only use one hand at a time so I'll alternate and use the other hand just to keep the steering wheel steady when needed.
  • Keeping the seat close as possible also allows me to turn the wheel with more ease so I'm not extending my arms or wrists too much because I have very little extension in my wrists.
  • Longer trips are hard, have to break it up in to shorter trips

Exercise helps with driving:

  • I try to exercise. It is very painful. But I hurt all the time anyway. Exercising some does help some.
  • I swim to reduce my stiffness , increase my flexibility. My cervical area hurts to constantly and safely view all directions if I don't use water therapy
  • Keep moving as much as you can, don't just lay in bed. Go to a heated swimming pool and enjoy.

Specific products, tools, or resources:

  • You can buy a steering wheel cover made with memory foam. That helps a lot, you don't have to grip the steering wheel as hard.
  • Heated seats help
  • I keep a crate of "assists" in the car - cane, wraps, sling, instant heatpacks, ice bag, small pillows, anti inflammatories, fleece hoodie, socks, shoes, etc.
  • Seat warmers in the car are a must!!!! It's like a critically important heating pad for me!!!
  • My rheumy prescribed Voltaren gel. I use it for joint and muscular pain. Works great! I carry a tube with me and apply as needed. No side effects! Talk to your doctor about it.
  • I use lidoderm patches (or salonpas) on my back.
  • My suv has thick seats and that helps!
  • Hand full of Advil and off I go! Lol
  • You can put one of the knobs (like they have for lawn mowers), makes turning much easier.
  • Go to a good rehabilitative physical/occupational therapist. There are all kinds of Assistive Technology for adapting cars. Hand controls, extra mirrors, steering wheel grips, etc.
  • I want my next car to have push button start because turning the key is very rough some days.
  • I often drive with a pillow on my lap to support my elbows.
  • My hands get bad [so] I bring my braces
  • Wrist supports
  • I will suggest a really great pair of compression gloves if it's your hands that bother you.
  • Heated steering wheel!
  • Here's a website with some products so people can see what can be done to help them stay behind the wheel:

Help from others:

  • I have my spouse and friends help a lot.
  • My husband is my chauffeur.
  • It's nice to have other family members drive.
  • I'll let my son drive me around.
  • Prayers
  • If dealing with the children when you're driving is stressful, take someone along to handle the kids while you drive.

Certain things help with fatigue:

  • If you rub a little peppermint oil on your temples, the vigorous cooling sensation helps to keep you alert (it doesn't burn) and wakes you up!
  • I make sure my 11 year old son talks or we sing together so I don't doze off!
  • Dark chocolate covered expresso beans for long drives (regular coffee results in bathroom breaks) and frequent breaks.
  • I bought a Mercedes because it has attention assist because I tend to be extremely tired driving home at night. It has been a life saver!
  • Bring your favorite drink

Certain types of cars:

  • I traded in my stick for automatic
  • We just bought a new (for us) car. My only stipulation was that it was high enough to get in and out of. We ended up with a Subaru Outback.
  • Select your car according to ease of getting in and out, motorized adjustable seats, armrests, etc.
  • I tried out many vehicles before settling on my Subaru Outback, height is great, automatic controls for seat, seat warmers etc.
  • Bought a smaller SUV type vehicle with all the bells and whistles for me, has helped tremendously - push button start, keyless entry, fully adjustable heated seats.
  • I have a very hard time in cars. So my husband got me a F150 2010.
  • The Honda Civic CR-V is a lifesaver for me. Easy to steer and I can turn the ignition key even with a severely degenerated elbow, wrist and hand. I use both hands to engage the gears but the shift is easily accessible to me.

Limit or avoid driving due to RA:

  • Never drive foggy... Never. I keep telling myself better alive and late, then never arrive.
  • Just do short distances - too dangerous to drive for hours at a time.
  • Good advice is don't try to drive if it doesn't feel right
  • On long trips I don't drive in the dark.
  • It hurts me but for my safety and the safety of others I gave it up
  • Usually take the's very difficult getting in and out of vehicles.
  • If you're having a bad day, try not to drive it will only make your symptoms worse

How about you? If you experience pain, stiffness, or fatigue due to RA, how do you manage when it comes to driving? Please share in the comments below!

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