The Frustrations of Driving with RA
Between driving to doctor’s appointments, picking up prescriptions, and getting to therapy, you have plenty of places to go, in addition to work/school, family responsibilities, and/or social activities, driving is an activity many of those living with RA have to undertake. However, according to many of our community members, RA can make driving difficult, whether it’s a long road trip, or just your daily commute. To learn more about driving with RA, we asked our community members, “Do you face trouble driving?” This is what they shared:
Driving with Fatigue
“The exhaustion is a killer. So, whenever I travel more than an hour, I bring caffeinated drinks and crunchy foods”
“Sometimes, on the road, my wife and I listen to educational podcasts…. Helps keep one thinking and awake”
“I can’t drive because I nod off asleep.”
For many of our community members, one of the most difficult parts of driving is RA-related fatigue. Almost 90% of our community members report experiencing fatigue, which can refer to physical and/or mental weakness. For many of you, driving leads to physical exhaustion, either from lifting yourself in and out of the car, changing gears, or turning the steering wheel. For others, your fatigue takes the form of mental exhaustion, triggered by focusing on the road, navigating through traffic, or straining to follow directions.
To manage RA fatigue while driving, our community members recommend:
Getting plenty of sleep the night before (or taking a nap) prior to getting on the road
Taking frequent breaks
Listening to a podcast or the radio to stay alert
Packing your favorite drinks or snacks to keep you awake.
Driving with Pain, Stiffness, and Inflammation
“My hands hurt so bad…hard to hold onto the steering wheel”
“My hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders hurt so badly when I’m driving!”
“I find that my hands will go numb, so frequent position changes on the steering wheel. I also have severe pain in my legs, so have to stop every couple of hours to stretch if I’m on a long trip”
“For me, it’s sitting a long time. I feel it the most in my hips and back.”
“My hands and elbows hurt so bad sometimes that I can’t hold the steering wheel.”
According to many of our community members, the most difficult part of driving is managing RA-related pain and discomfort. For people with RA, the most common symptoms are inflammation, pain, swelling, and tightness or stiffness of the joints. For some, pre-existing RA pain makes it difficult to hold the steering wheel, while for others, sitting in the same position in the car worsens your joint stiffness. If your RA symptoms affect your elbow or ankle joints, you may also notice numbness and tingling in the hands or feet when you drive.
To reduce pain and discomfort while driving, our community members suggest:
Using a steering wheel cover to make the wheel easier to grip
Using the car’s seat warmers
Wearing compression gloves or other supports
Taking over-the-counter or prescription medications (as recommended by your doctor) before or during your drive
Driving with Reduced Mobility
“The problem I have is turning my head to see over my shoulder. I am very thankful for my rear camera.”
“I can’t use my thumbs to start car, so I put key between my index and middle finger to turn ignition on.”
“My problem now is pulling the seat belt!”
“Unfastening seat belt”
“The hardest part of my commute is getting out of the car, my legs just don’t want to work right”
Like pain and discomfort, many of our community members share that decreased mobility is their biggest challenge when driving. Because RA can affect several parts of the body, some patients have trouble getting in and out of the car, or buckling or unbuckling their seat belt. Others shared difficulties with starting the ignition, turning to see other cars, or reacting quickly to a sudden stop.
To deal with mobility issues while driving, our community suggest:
Using cruise control
Installing extra mirrors (or using a hand mirror) to reduce the need to twist and turn
Using a car cane or other assistive devices to get in and out of the car
Purchasing a ‘push to start’ ignition
Avoid parking in such a way that you’ll have to back-up later
Driving with Eye Problems
“I also have trouble during flare ups with seeing perfectly clear, which makes me insecure about driving”
“I struggle to see road signs and difficulty seeing at night with car lights coming towards me”
Almost 90% of our community members say that RA has affected their eyes, which many experience as dry eyes, sensitivity to light, and/or blurred or decreased vision. For some of you, changes to your eyes have made it more difficult or stressful to drive, especially at night when your natural visibility is reduced. For others, your vision is worse during a flare, making you less likely to get on the road before the flare subsides. If you’re experiencing RA fatigue, it can also be more challenging to see cars and signs ahead of you.
Tips & Strategies: If you are experiencing changes to your eyes, talk to your healthcare provider about driving safety. If you are more sensitive to light, you can store extra sunglasses in your car, and your family members’ cars, to ensure that you are never driving without added protection.
“Driving? What is that?”
“I miss driving!”
“Can’t drive anymore due to this terrible disease…. always loved to drive”
According to some of our community members, driving is no longer possible due to your RA symptoms. For the safety of yourself and others, some of you have chosen to no longer drive, instead relying on friends, family, and private & public transportation to get around. While you may or may not have made the choice to no longer drive, several of you have expressed that not being able to drive feels like “losing your freedom” or “giving up something you love.”
While driverless cars are still a thing of the future, many community members have expressed that ride-share services (such as Uber or Lyft) have helped them to get around more easily (and affordably, especially if you use the carpool or shared function). For other community members, you rely on free or low-cost rideshare programs in your community, or ask friends, family, and neighbors to help you get where you need to go.
Impact of RA on driving
For many of our RA community members, difficulties with fatigue, pain/discomfort, mobility, and vision can make driving more frustrating than enjoyable. While some of you have stopped driving due to your RA, others have found devices and strategies to make driving easier and more comfortable. If you have concerns about driving, ask your healthcare provider if driving is safe for you, and connect with the RA community for more ideas and tips.