drive with articular pain and stiffness can be a challenge. But rheumatoid arthritis (RA) shouldn’t keep you from hitting the road. There are steps you can take to make your journey easier. What can you do?
“The modifications are endless,” says Eron Bozec, occupational therapist for the Driver Rehabilitation Program at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, IL.
Here are some AR-friendly driving tips for your next trip.
Adjust your seat
There are lots of ways to “make your car work for you,” says Bozec. One of the most important is to position your seat a comfortable distance from the accelerator and brake pedals so that you don’t have to stray too far.
For example, Lynn Marie Witt is tall. The former occupational therapist moves her seat closer to the steering wheel so she can press the pedals with all her might. foot. It relieves stump and fatigue on the small joints of his toes.
It’s a good solution, says Bozec; just try to leave at least 10 inches of space between you and the wheel for safety.
Other things that can help include:
- Raise your seat for a better view of the dashboard.
- Add armrests for support on both sides.
- Use the back support to keep your spine in good position.
- Use heated seats to relieve pain and stiffness in the hips and back.
- Sit on a cushion for support.
Witt sometimes uses a swivel chair. It’s a portable cushion that spins in a circle so you don’t have to twist your hips so much when getting in and out of your car.
There are many swivel chairs on the market. Witt cost $15 at his local grocery store. If you don’t want to buy one, try sitting on something slippery like a plastic garbage bag.
“It works really well and helps you slide in and out of the seat a lot easier,” says Witt.
Modify your steering wheel
RA affects different people in different ways, but it’s common to have issues with adherence. Here are some tips to help you grip the steering wheel while driving:
- Adjust the tilt and the telescope. This feature is standard in most vehicles. It allows you to move up and down the steering wheel. You can usually push it closer or push it further. Adjust it to find a comfortable position for you.
- Think about where your hands are going. If the traditional grip positions 10 and 2 (like the positions on an analog clock) cause pain in your shoulders, try 9 and 3.”[It] could be a bit more comfortable, especially for long rides,” says Christina Hanson, occupational therapist and teacher at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.
- Add a padded steering wheel cover. This can make it easier to get started. Witt uses a cover for more comfort. But it also keeps its steering wheel from getting too hot or too cold. “I’m very temperature sensitive in my hands,” she says.
- Use a rotary knob. You can attach one to your steering wheel. It helps you turn the wheel while using less force. These devices often look like a doorknob. But they come in other forms that might work better for you. Check to see if your state has special rules on steering wheel changes, such as adding a rotary knob. You may need special permission.
Use AR-enabled features
Witt wears a portable steel handle to get in and out of his car. You may see them called “vehicle grab bar” or HandyBar. You insert them into the U-shaped door latch attached to your car which is exposed when you open your car door. Once inserted, you can press down on the handle to help support your ballast when you stand up or sit down. “These little devices can hold a lot of weight,” says Witt.
You can also benefit from other low-tech add-ons, including:
- An extension to help you turn your key
- Blind spot mirrors
- Tools to help you open and close the door
- Indicator extensions
Many modern vehicles are equipped with tools to help drivers. They are not specifically designed for people with rheumatoid arthritis, but the following may help:
- Push button start
- Regular or adaptive cruise control
- Reversing cameras
- Large mirrors
- Parallel parking guides
- Blind Spot Alerts
Time your trip
Driver fatigue can set in quickly when you have rheumatoid arthritis. It’s essential to hit the road when you’re most alert. And be sure to follow your RA treatment. Driving will likely be easier when your symptoms are under control.
You will need to review any medication side effects with your doctor. Your treatment should not interfere with driving. But some drugs used to relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can cause:
- memory problem
- Thought disorder
- Slow reaction time
It may be okay to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) before hitting the road. But it’s something you should talk to your rheumatologist or regular doctor approx. They will tell you what is safe to use while driving.
Stop to stretch
Your joints can hurt more if you don’t move for a while. This is partly due to a lack of some blood flow, says Bozec. But the pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis can make it difficult to sit for long periods.
You may feel better if you change your position while driving. But you should also plan pit stops along your route. Get out and move around for at least a few minutes.
How often should you take breaks? It depends on how RA affects your body. “Some people may be able to hold the wheel longer than others,” Bozec says. “Some people may experience pain in their legs and need to get out and stretch more often.”
Whitt gets out of the car at least every 1-2 hours. She can stop and do light stretches every 45 minutes during a push. “Otherwise, I would stiffen up and the joints would lock up,” she says.
Here are some AR-friendly moves to try on your next rest stop:
- Roll your head five times to the right and to the left.
- Flex and point each foot 10 times.
- Draw a circle with your foot five times in each direction.
- Walk in place 10 times.
- Roll your shoulders forward and back 10 times.
While driving, remember to open and close your fingers from time to time. And roll your wrists one at a time. “But don’t let go of the steering wheel,” Hanson said.
Talk to a professional
A regular occupational therapist is a good start. They will be able to give you daily advice on back support, cushions, sitting positions and other ways to protect your joints.
But if you need special equipment or want to know how RA affects your overall driving, “I would suggest seeing a driver rehabilitation specialist,” Bozec says.
These experts can determine your specific needs in several ways. To start, they will put you in a car and watch you drive. This will help them assess your muscle strength, reaction time, and mobility issues.
But they will also ask you questions, such as:
- How does arthritis affect your daily life?
- Are you on treatment to control your symptoms?
- Can you turn your head to check your blind spot?
- Is it easy to put on your seatbelt?
- Having trouble pressing the pedals?
A driver rehabilitation specialist can also help you get permission to use adaptive equipment. “They would be versed in all the rules and regulations of that specific state,” Bozec says.
Your doctor can work with a driver rehabilitation program. But you can find a specialist in your area on the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists website or the American Occupational Therapy Association website.