Community Ideas: Driving with RA

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…

I’ve learned 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 gas/brake pedal and put 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, arm rests, etc.
  • I get the most comfort by using my arm rest 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 me 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 are helpful to me:

  • 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: http://www.autoadapt.com/en-gb/

I appreciate 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.

For fatigue, I’ve found certain things that help…

  • 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 are helpful:

  • I traded in my stick for automatic
  • We just bought a new (for us) car. My only stipulations 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, arm rests, 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.

I 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 bus…it’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! 

Comments

View Comments (30)
  • DonfromDerby
    7 months ago

    I find that wearing leather gloves is a great help with gripping the steering wheel and also the gear stick and other controls. The friction of the leather means that I don’t have to hang on as tight.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    7 months ago

    Thank you for sharing, DonfromDerby!! I need to try this…I recently switched to a relatively light car (doors open more easily, steering is less strenous) but even on bad days it is not quite enough. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • ql6rsp
    2 years ago

    I feel blessed that I am still able to drive up to 5 hours by myself. I live in West Texas and it is far from everything. I do make frequent stops. I have found it much easier to sit on the car seat first and then swing my legs inside; do the opposite for getting out.

    I have had moderate-severe RA for 20+ years. I thought it was a death sentence at first but I learned to adjust. My first RA was not very good and as a result, I lost all my metatarsal joints in my feet. I now drive 5 1/2 hours one way to an excellent rheumatologist. Do what you have to do!

  • Wesmoms
    2 years ago

    For those who don’t know: most cars can be equipped with gas and/or brake hand controls. This can be really helpful for some. Also, certain cars (like my Mercedes) have pedals that will extend or retract to increase or decrease the length between you and the pedal. Too, my car has a spot that you press on the brake pedal and you don’t have to continuously hold it down-very helpful at stoplights or those times when you may be stopped for a few minutes but don’t want to continuously shift your car into park. Mercedes and Volvo are two of the most “disability friendly” car brands available in the US. There are also extra mirrors you can get that will mount onto your car (soyou have less of a blind spot) if you have back or neck issues.

  • pardyfalcone
    2 years ago

    I have lost range of motion in my neck so it makes it difficult to look both ways, look over my shoulder to check blinds pot when switching lanes. Also, after trying it out, I found I can’t be the passenger. I think too much about the pain and I get even more restless. If it’s shortee distances, I do the driving. The road keeps me focused on the road, not the pain constantly. If it’s a day when my pain is intolerable, I just stay home with heating pads (sometimes ice) wrapped around me head to toe.

  • pardyfalcone
    2 years ago

    I also don’t drive at night anymore. I can’t see a thing, other cars headlights blind me and I just too tired. It’s not safe anymore.

  • Twinnichole
    2 years ago

    I’m 38 and have 2 kids (9)(13), I’m to stiff to drive them to school in the mornings which was always something so special for us. And I’ve basically given up driving as well because I never know when a flare will hit me and it’s just too risky for me to take that chance .

  • RHPass
    3 years ago

    I have 2 problems driving: I already have my seat all the way back because I have long legs. and most of my doctors appts are a 3 hr R/T. so I have ‘rest stops’ mapped out along the way to stop & stretch and take a quick break. wouldn’t want to nod off at 55 mph!

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    3 years ago

    RH Pass,

    Sorry to hear about your driving situtation. We are also sorry you have such a long drive to your doctors. Hopefully some of these tips were helpful.

    Best Wishes,
    Lauren (Community Manager RheumatoidArthritis.net)

  • Sherriwalkerdugas
    3 years ago

    Thank yall so much but I have a sad face this info is so shocking to me cause I have been recently told I have RA Ive experienced these symptoms for so many years and so many tests were done. Light blubs are going on all over the place in my mind.

  • ql6rsp
    2 years ago

    Glad you finally got a diagnosis. I hope you have found a good rheumatologist!

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Sherriwalkerdugas,

    Thanks so much for your comment. We are sorry to hear about your recent diagnosis. We are glad you found our community. There are many community members of all ages and walks of life.

    We understand how long and frustrating it can be to get a diagnosis. Here is an article that I thought would be helpful in knowing you are not alone.
    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/getting-definitive-diagnosis-can-frustrating-process/

    Additionally we want you to know you can come here anytime, with questions, or if you need support or information.

    We are glad you are part of our community.
    Best Wishes,
    Lauren (Community Manager RheumatoidArthritis.net)

  • Sallygal
    3 years ago

    Thank you for your very thorough piece. I think you may have touched every issue that might affect most of us. I decided that because my concentration (and my memory) is not what it used to be, there is no way I could remember even half of your suggestions. So, I am going to print them out and keep it posted on the door to the garage so that I can try to implement those that most clearly affect me.

    I do have one brief suggestion of my own, one that other short women may appreciate. The single most annoying thing for me when driving is when the shoulder belt pulls across my neck. It does it almost constantly, but I don’t really have a suggestion to stop it, other than to hold it away from my neck. But that can be distracting. So … any suggestion is welcome!

  • mcadwell
    1 year ago

    Sallygal, have you tried using a seatbelt adjuster? If you google it you will find all sorts of them.

  • Twinnichole
    2 years ago

    Have you tried getting the really soft mink seatbelt strap cover like used on the infants car seats . They make them for adults, maybe that would help ease a little pain . I’ve never thought about it until you just mentioned it, I may look into getting me one as well.

  • agsides
    3 years ago

    They do make a velcro band that goes around the belt near the buckle, it shifts the band away from your neck.

  • Erin Rush moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this information, agsides! Best, Erin, RheumatoidArthritis.net Team Member.

  • Sherriwalkerdugas
    3 years ago

    I totally understand. Im going through the same things Sally. Unfortunately I dont have any suggestions on our distraction

  • swbw
    3 years ago

    My biggest problem with driving is fatigue. My parents live 2 hours away and I simply cannot drive that far even with stops. I get so foggy minded that I feel that I am dangerous to be on the road, so I just can’t go visit them. My kids and husband all work very long hours so it is hard for them to drive me on their one day off. Also it is hard to push on the brake.

  • Sherriwalkerdugas
    3 years ago

    Im so sorry I totally get it. You are not alone

  • Jillian S moderator
    3 years ago

    swbw,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with our community. Please know that you are not alone in this battle! It must be difficult for you to have that 2 hour obstacle between you and your parents. Are there any forms of public transportation that you can take to get to your parents?
    Fatigue is one of the most common and frustrating symptoms among those with RA. I thought you might enjoy reading this article on facing fatigue: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/facing-fatigue/
    Be sure to check out the comments where other community members share their experiences coping with fatigue.
    https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/managing-ra-related-fatigue/
    Thank you for being an active member of our community- feel free to reach out any time!
    Best,
    Jillian (RA.net Team)

  • Jana
    3 years ago

    I got some good ideas from this article. I often don’t realize how bad my hands are until I grip the stearing wheel and have to use my finger tips because it hurts too much to put pressure on the joints. I also have trouble pushing the gas and break when my right foot is really inflamed which is often. I don’t know what to do about that except not drive.

  • Sherriwalkerdugas
    3 years ago

    Me too

  • smilagirl
    3 years ago

    I did physical therapy to work on my mobility, pain & stiffness in my neck. It helps my driving to be able to turn to see around me.
    My husband doesn’t like to drive, he has his own health issues, so it’s a problem for us when I can’t drive. Luckily, we live in an area with great public transportation, can walk to grocery stores, etc. I’m going to use these tips, will be especially helpful when we go on longer drives.
    Another issue some people with AI disease may have is UV exposure, I bought simple cotton gloves and keep them, a cap & sunscreen in the car. I haven’t looked into window tinting, but know that every state has it’s own laws regarding that. I can get a flare after sun or fluorescent light exposure.

  • Jenn Lebowitz
    3 years ago

    Great tip about the sun exposure, smilagirl! Thanks so much for sharing – and for being such a helpful, active part of the community!

    Warmly,

    Jenn (Community Manager, RheumatoidArthritis.net)

  • Detje Bea
    3 years ago

    thank you for this. I bookmarked it so I can print it up because there are many times I struggle when I drive.

  • Jenn Lebowitz
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Detje! So glad the community’s tips are helpful! Great idea to bookmark and print it. 🙂 Sending you our best!

    Warmly,

    Jenn (Community Manager, RheumatoidArthritis.net)

  • Nes
    4 years ago

    My issue is the steering wheel. I will take some of the recommendations and try them out. I head out on a business trip in the morning, I do okay but no meds at the start is going to be a bugger!

  • Terrie Spradley
    4 years ago

    Thank you for the great ideas! I rarely drive, my sweet husband drives, even to my appointments.

    I am often on pain meds and fear that could be an issue. If I know that I have to drive then I make sure their are no pain meds on board. I was always a great driver. My job required my driving daily throughout the county. I drove across country countless times. My father was a race car driver and taught me well. But now I am afraid to drive…

  • Kathy P.
    3 years ago

    I never knew there were memory foam wheel covers, so that’s a great tip!

    For those that have hand issues when driving, you might also check into bicycling gloves that have gel pads and leather palms. I use these at work when I have to fabricate and also for driving. The leather palm helps to grip, and the gel pads in the fingers, palms, and thumb heels mold around my joints and cushion them. They help immensely, or else I wouldn’t be able to drive at all.

    Thank you for the article. Sometimes even one small thing can make all the difference in the world.

  • Poll