Top tips for driving with rheumatoid arthritis

Blog by Geoff West

Driving is something many of us without arthritic conditions no doubt take for granted. Typically, the quickest way from A to B with the added benefit of limiting your interactions with other people. Now I know, M25 and Central London drivers will be belly-laughing at that notion, but imagine driving with swollen joints and pains in your hands. So in an attempt to educate not only myself, but others with these struggles, here are our top tips for driving with RA.

Automatic vs Manual

To begin, quite a big one. Now we are not saying, absolutely sell your manual car as soon as physically possible. However, while manual cars are still more widely used here in the UK, Direct Line predicts the last new manual car will be sold by 2029 – after automatic car sales overtook manual for the first time ever in 2021. This indicates two main things. First, I am definitely getting old as I remember when automatic cars were just a mere myth and second, the price gap between the two transmission types is slowly closing. This is definitely something to consider for someone living with RA.

Maybe it’s just me, or my hideously old Citroën that just won’t give up, but even being able bodied, I still find the odd moment where I grind the gears while driving. I couldn’t even imagine it during a flare! Therefore, removing the action of gripping the gearstick as well as the clutch, would alleviate some pain on both your hands knees and feet, while also giving you less to think about while driving.

Small adjustments, big comfort

For those looking some smaller changes, adjusting your posture is absolutely essential for any driver – let alone someone with RA! Its rare nowadays to find a car without adjustable seat heights and levels of incline, however if the level of adjustment isn’t quite right for you consider some additional cushions. Lumbar and doughnut cushions can be good for additional support, raising the height or your chair and arching your back to a healthy position.

Source: Demonstration of someone using a portable grab bar

Depending on where they are, seat belt handles can help when aimlessly reaching back trying to find the belt. This will give you something more stable to pull across you and save you twisting around much when you first sit down. Another great addition could be a portable grab bar, which acts almost like a discreet walking cane. Fantastic for those who may struggle getting in and out of your car and can easily fit right in the glove box.

Hot wheels

If you have read our previous blog post on contrast hydrotherapy, then you will know just how beneficial it can be for those with RA and other inflammatory conditions. I have been reliably informed from those in the office that heated steering wheels and seats are a god send for anyone with RA.

However, if your vehicle doesn’t have the capability, there are heated steering wheel and seat covers available which are surprisingly affordable. Even keeping a couple of heat packs in your glove compartment could suffice if you get caught in a cold snap. These don’t have to be car specific, that USB powered heated blanket you’ve been clutching onto this past winter – store it in your car should you require a little extra heat when getting into your car!

Know your limits

Like many things to do with RA, and even life itself – it’s all about learning your limits. Unfortunately there is no set rules for anyone, so it’s all about trial and error. Always allow for extra time if preparing for a longer journey and try to take 10 minute stretch breaks to prevent yourself from stiffening up. If you need for some inspiration on exercises and stretches, be sure to refer to our exercise section.

Keeping some additional medication, painkillers and anti-inflammatory gels in your vehicle can also really help, if you get in a bit of a pinch. Above all else, make sure you are doing everything you can to take care of yourself and minimise your risks of having a flare.

Check out our supported self-management section should you need some starting steps. Did we miss any of your own tips for driving with rheumatoid arthritis? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and be sure to follow us for more tips on living with RA.