More comfort, less joint pain. Drive safely with Arthritis

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drive safely with arthritis

More comfort, less joint pain. How to guarantee an arthritis friendly drive

“Driving is the most hazardous activity we do on a daily basis. It takes our whole body to do it — physically, mentally, visually — so we need to be at our best.”

Patrick Baker an occupational therapist with Cleveland Clinic’s Driver Rehabilitation Program.

Providing tips and actions to ensure you can drive safely with arthritis is the ultimate goal of this article. Driving represents freedom, control, mobility, social participation and independence for many people. It enables us to get to the places we want and need to go to. Driving allows us to visit friends and family. Being mobile gives us the opportunity to go on holidays and make medical visits. For many of us, it is an economic necessity: a method of getting to and from our workplaces. Let’s not forget the need to food shop and get our children and grandchildren from venue to venue.

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We must remember that driving is a complex skill. Our ability to not just drive, but to do safely, is affected by 3 conditions:
  1. physical
  2. emotional
  3. mental

A chronic disease that affects joints, muscles and pain levels, impacts on all these 3 conditions. This has implications for the quality of our driving. It is vital that we reduce the effect of our disease and maintain the highest standard of quality driving as possible. It is our responsibility to do so. Our lives, and those of others rely on it!

This is one in a series of articles which will explore tips to make your drive more comfortable and less painful. Fortunately there are many things you can do to improve your driving comfort and therefore the quality of your driving. These include:

  • ensuring you have the most comfortable set up 
  • using off the shelf aids and gadgets to adapt your existing car on a budget 
  • having your car modified by customized manufacturer or 
  • buying an alternative car that better suits your needs.

How can joint pain impact your ability to drive?

Anyone with a muscle, bone or joint condition experiences chronic pain during driving. My condition is as a result of my Osteoarthritis which affects both my knee joints and my hands. I find driving to be both painful and exhausting.

Swollen and stiff joints

Joint pain and stiffness make it harder to do the most basic of driving functions. It can affect your ability to bend or move your shoulders, hands, head and neck. Joint pain and stiffness impacts upon how quickly you can do the movement and also by how far you can bend the joint. Your driving quality depends upon how well you can:

  • turn your head to look behind you or check for lane changes
  • check your blind spot
  • turn the steering wheel quickly and firmly
  • turn corners, navigate roundabouts and 3 point turns
  • put your seatbelt on
  • brake safely
  • apply your accelerator
  • change gear (in a manual car)
  • drive for moderate to long distances
  • drive for extended periods of time
  • get in and out of your car

Swollen and stiff joints - Safe Driving tips

  • See your doctor if pain, stiffness, or arthritis seem to get in the way of your driving.
  • If possible, drive a car with automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, and large mirrors.
  • Be physically active or exercise to keep and even improve your strength and flexibility.
  • Think about getting hand controls for both the accelerator and brake pedals if you have leg problems.

Medications

Some medications used to treat arthritis can cause sleepiness, dizziness, or other side effects that can impair your driving ability.

Medications

Do you take any medicines that make you feel drowsy, lightheaded, or less alert than usual?
Do your medicines have a warning about driving?

You must talk with your Medical Team/GP. Make sure that they know that you need to be able to drive. By doing this, they can assign you the medication that best works for you. Always take care when starting a new medication. Track how your body reacts to it, before attempting any drive. Pay attention to how these drugs may affect your driving.

Medications - Safe Driving tips

  • Read medicine labels carefully. Look for any warnings.
  • Make a list of all of your medicines, and talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how they can affect your driving.
  • Don’t drive if you feel lightheaded or drowsy.

Reaction times

Pain often causes mental fog and fatigue. Pain combined with joint inflexibility slows down your reflexes and reaction times. Your treatments and medications can also impair your reaction speeds. You may find that you have a shorter attention span, making it harder to do two things at once. Stiff joints or weak muscles also can make it harder to move quickly.

Reaction Times - Safe Driving tips

  • Leave more space between you and the car in front of you.
  • Start braking early when you need to stop.
  • Avoid heavy traffic areas or rush-hour driving when you can.
  • If you must drive on a fast-moving highway, drive in the right-hand lane. Traffic moves more slowly there, giving you more time to make safe driving decisions.
STOP

Can you still drive with joint pain caused by arthritis?

  • Yes, most people are safe to drive with arthritis. It does depend upon two things:
    1. which joints are affected
    2. how well you and your doctor are able to manage your condition.

You must be pro-active about your medical care. Constant communication with your doctor about your health and safety is vital. There are some very simple adaptations you can make whilst still in a mild to moderate stage. As the disease degenerates, modifications to your car can help prolong the number of years that you can drive safely.

  • If you use medicine to treat your arthritis, make sure it doesn’t make you sleepy. Ask your doctor about other treatments that can help with your pain, swelling, and soreness. Treatments that will not make it difficult to drive safely.
  • Arthritis can limit your movement and strength, so try to stay fit and active. Doing so will help you to keep driving safely. Ask your doctor about exercises to keep your joints strong and supple.
Driving pain

Tips to ease driving pain

Adjust the car appropriately - find your comfort zone

You can make adjustments to minimize pain and safely accommodate a limited range of motion while driving.

  • Get comfortable immediately
  • Adjust your seat and mirrors carefully every time you get into the car. This will reduce the amount of twist and turn you need to make to check blindspots when changing lanes. Checkout these 9 Foolproof tricks for how to manouevre your car mirrors and seat effectively to minimize your need to twist and turn 
  • Make sure the steering wheel and seat are adjusted for optimal comfort so you have a clear line of sight and your foot is positioned so it can be fully depressed without having to over reach.
  • Buckle up! If the seat belt bothers your neck, try to raise the seat and be sure your hips are centered in the seat. This slight movement can move the seatbelt from the neck to the mid-shoulder, where it belongs
  • Minimize the force on fingers by using the heel of your hand to work controls
  • Wear suitable shoes such as flexible, low heeled shoes.  These shoes let you easily pivot your foot to control the pedals, whilst tall heels or thick shoes can tire your feet and ankles
  • Don’t drive when you are tired
  • Join a breakdown and recovery service for peace of mind
  • Know when you shouldn’t drive Even with the best preparation and care, there may be times where your arthritis makes it too difficult to drive. Be honest with yourself about your physical capability, mental fog, and exhaustion. Keep a list of people you can call for a ride if  you are in need, or use a rideshare service to give your joints a rest.

Plan ahead

  • If anti-inflammatories help you  consider taking some prior to travel
  • Don’t drive for longer than an hour or two at a time on long journeys . Get out and stretch your legs to avoid stiffness. Allow extra time so that you can do this
  • Manage your pain.  If you know certain medications or heat/cold treatments help, use these prior to a drive, or have them easily available in the car with you
  • Deep, slow breathing, listening to music/audiobooks or podcast can distract and give temporary pain relief whilst driving
  • Pack a care package and leave it in the car. Fill it with whatever are your go-to items for self care
  • If you’re using a rental car, research it before you pick it up to make sure you’re choosing a model with features that can assist you.

Suggestions for a care package

Print out this list

Driving Self Care Package (1)
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