If arthritis or back problems make driving a car difficult and painful, you may fear you’ll have to stop driving. But don’t give up yet. With work and some modifications, you should be able to remain comfortably in the driver’s seat.
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“People with arthritis that impacts their ability to function, including driving, should start by talking to their doctor about medications and other treatment options to help alleviate pain,” says Patrick Baker, MHS, OTR/L, CLVT, CDRS, an occupational therapist with Cleveland Clinic’s Driver Rehabilitation Program.
Baker also recommends going to a physical therapist or occupational therapist. “When you have painful arthritis, too much activity can exacerbate the pain, but doing too little will make it hurt even more,” he explains. “You have to strike the right balance.”
A physical therapist can work with you on exercises for stretching and strengthening. “With good muscle tone, joints can better do what they’re supposed to do,” he says. “You can also learn how to pace yourself, so you can take full advantage of your abilities without overdoing it.”
There are simple steps you can take to minimize pain and accommodate limited range of motion when driving. Here are Baker’s top recommendations:
If problems with your back, knees, hips, hands or neck still make driving too uncomfortable, Baker recommends consulting a certified driving rehabilitation specialist. You can find one in your area on the website of the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.
“There often is more than one issue making driving more difficult, including medical conditions not related to arthritis,” he says. Certified driver rehabilitation specialists are occupational therapists trained to look at the entire person and make appropriate recommendations.
“Driving is the most hazardous activity we do on a daily basis,” Baker says. “It takes our whole body to do it — physically, mentally, visually — so we need to be at our best.” The goal of a driver rehabilitation program is to figure out how to keep you on the road for as long as it is possible and safe.
This article originally appeared in Cleveland Clinic Arthritis Advisor.