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Top tips for driving if you’re living with arthritis


Whether you use yours for nipping to the supermarket, ferrying the kids around, driving to meetings or holiday road trips, owning a car provides a level of independence that is hard to match. 

When you are living with arthritis, it can play an even more important role, especially on those days when you have things to do and know walking isn’t going to be possible. 

Of course, pain and stiffness of the joints can also hinder driving. Many people complain of back problems after sitting for long periods, knees can ache from repetitive gear shifting, pain in the hands can make gripping the steering wheel difficult and checking your blind spot is awkward when shoulders are feeling stiff. 

If any of the above sounds familiar, we’ve come up with a few tips to make life behind the wheel a little more comfortable. 

Before we get to them, the following is important to remember...

If your arthritis affects your ability to drive, particularly if you need adapted controls, it’s important that you tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and your insurance company. For further information, visit: www.gov.uk/driving-medical-conditions 

You should also make sure any medicine used to treat your arthritis doesn’t make you drowsy. 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.

Buying a car that suits your needs

If your circumstances have changed since you last bought a car, you may want to invest in a vehicle that delivers a more comfortable driving experience. 

By and large newer cars are more sophisticated and offer more adjustments and better safety features. You might want to switch from a manual transmission vehicle to an automatic for easier gear shifting and look for a car with power-assisted steering and height-adjustable seats. 

The following features could also be useful:

  • Big mirrors for a better range of view
  • Six-way seats that can adjust for best comfort
  • Button ignition start instead of a key
  • A moulded backrest
  • Heated seats to help with hip flexibility
  • Voice control and buttons instead of knobs
  • Seat belt extenders that make them easier to grab
  • Large doors to aid getting in and out

Car modifications

If you’re not in a position to buy a new vehicle, you might want to modify your existing car to make it more arthritis-friendly. Adaptations can be something as simple as having a special cushion put in the back so that you can sit better or having your car seat put on a swivel for easier access into and out of the vehicle. 

The following could also be useful: 

  • Add foam tape or a thick wheel cover to the steering wheel to make it less painful to grip. 
  • If you cannot use foot pedals at all, different types of hand control can be fitted on an automatic car. Remember, as we said at the top of the article, you may need to inform the DVLA and your insurance company of such changes. 
  • For as little as £25 a panoramic mirror can be placed over or replace a standard rear-view mirror. 
  • Blindspot mirrors can be added to regular side mirrors to extend what you can see. 
  • For a hand closing your boot, try fixing a strap to it or fitting an electronic boot closer. 

Getting in and out

If you’re living with arthritis often the hardest part of a journey is the physical exertion required getting in and out of your vehicle. The Research Institute for Disabled consumers suggests the following techniques to make things a little easier. 

  • To help get your legs in, try looping a stiff length of webbing or a walking stick over your foot to pull it by hand over the door sill. 
  • To help with swivelling in, you can simply put a plastic bag on the seat, or use a specialist swivelling cushion. Make sure you remove it for the journey.

You should also consider keeping assistance devices, like a walking stick, in your car. 

Find a comfortable position

If you find that your feet and ankles are stiff, try moving your seat forward so that you’re pushing the pedals with your entire foot, not just your toes. 

Also, make sure the seat is at a height that lets you have control of the pedals without being uncomfortable or putting pressure on your feet and ankles.

Take regular breaks

It goes without saying, but you shouldn’t drive when you’re tired. And you certainly should not drive if you’ve taken medication that you know affects your ability to drive. 

Once you’re on the road, particularly on long journeys, be sure to stop regularly. It helps to get out and stretch your legs to avoid exacerbating stiffness. 

For peace of mind, make sure you’re signed up with a breakdown and recovery service like the AA, RAC or Green Flag. 

Useful links

The Research Institute for Disabled Consumers
https://www.ridc.org.uk/content/mobility 

Experts in user-centred research involving disabled and older people

Driving Motability
https://www.drivingmobility.org.uk/
Lots of useful advice about mobility options to help you back on the road

Versus Arthritis

https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/living-with-arthritis/driving/

Everyday driving advice for those living with arthritis

Blue Badge applications

https://www.gov.uk/apply-blue-badge

Check your eligibility and apply for a Blue Badge

DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency)

https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/disability-health-condition

Information on driving with a medical condition

Further Reading