It seems that driving is often a common issue for those of us with the chronic pain of Fibromyalgia. For me it’s a combination of the strain on my shoulders and neck from my TMJ as well as strain on my leg and hip from having to reach for the gas/brake peddle.
Back in 2010 when I first began experiencing chronic pain I was driving an Acura TL that sat low to the ground. The low seats and the distance between my seat and the pedals seemed to aggravate the pain I experienced. I tried adjusting my seat and steering wheel. But after driving for a bit, I realized it still wasn’t working. No matter what I did, I was still reaching and straining.
I realized that there were two main issues that were adding to my pain.
- I couldn’t quite reach the gas and brake without stretching my legs out, unless my steering wheel was right up against my chest. Stretching my legs out to reach the pedals was aggravating my sciatica issues.
- I couldn’t reach the top of the steering wheel (or even the middle) without lifting my arms up and out (again unless I was pushed so close to the wheel that my boobs would get in the way). Stretching my arms out to reach the steering wheel was aggravating my neck and TMJ issues.
In the end, I decided that I needed to find a new car, with a few specific requirements to overcome those issues.
- Seats that sit like a chair, with my legs bent at the knees rather than straight out to drive.
- Steering Wheel that I can reach the middle of (3 and 9 o’clock) without reaching up to do so.
- Low enough to the ground that I’m not climbing up into it.
The perfect car for me
Because I follow the Dave Ramsey plan, I wanted to pay cash after trading in the vehicle I had (a 2006 Acura TL with just shy of 100k miles). This put my budget at just under $20k. Initially, I wanted to buy something used and felt I’d get more value for my money by doing so. But, in the end, it really came down to finding the vehicle that was the best fit.
After doing quite a bit of research we found that the cars that were most likely to work were the new (at the time) boxy style cars like the Scion Xb, Nissan Cube, or Kia Soul. Other crossover SUV type vehicles also fit the bill, as well as a few smaller cars (the Scion XD, for example). In talking to others with Fibro, some of the cars that they mentioned not having trouble driving were the Honda Element, Chevy HHR, and larger Sedans. In the end after sitting in the cars and driving several, the car that worked best for me was the Kia Soul.
Making that change changed my life. I kept that car for over 10 years, without driving aggravating my chronic pain. It’s probably the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven, and I’d buy another one without a second thought. I finally traded it in when we hit the road to full-time travel in our RV. Although, we’ve had moments where we wish we still had it for the ease of driving and parking.
I now drive a Ford F450. It’s huge, but what sold us on the truck was that I could drive it without difficulty. As big as it is on the road, the interior feels as comfortable as my Soul. I can easily adjust the seat and steering wheel so that I can reach everything without pain. It is a bit high off the ground though and sometimes on bad days it can be a bit of effort to pull myself up and into the truck. My partner does most of the driving, but I can drive it without issue when I need to.
Update: We decided that since we’ll be spending about six months in one place (Michigan) this summer that we wanted a smaller car to get around in. Something that was easier to just jump in and go, and definitely something easier to park.
My partner’s first thought was a Jeep (because he loves Jeeps), but when we test drove one we quickly found out that I can’t drive a Jeep without pain. I’d driven his a few times (he since traded it in for that F450 that tows our house) and hadn’t really had issues, but it was always a quick trip to the store, and I was never really thinking about comfort for such a short drive. I may not have even adjusted the seat. But, we’re looking for something that I can drive for long distances. It turned out that that’s just as difficult to find now as it was a decade ago.
I would have been fine just buying another Kia Soul. It’s a car I know I can drive without issues. But, we wanted something with 4-wheel drive since we are heading north and there’s a good chance we may sell it up north. So, we shopped around and after a week of shopping we found that the best vehicle for comfort and reliability that came in a 4-wheel drive was a Toyota Rav4. Finding one in 4-wheel drive (in Alabama) that was in good shape wasn’t as easy. But, we did finally track one down in Nashville, TN.
5 Tips for Making Driving With Chronic Pain More Comfortable
I realize we can’t all trade in our cars for something that fits better, but there are changes we can make with existing cars. If driving gives you pain here are a few tips to help you adjust.
- Raise your seat, so that you are sitting rather than leaning. If your seat sits low, adjust it up if you can. If your seat will not adjust to a higher position, try sitting on a pillow or two to raise yourself up (just make sure the pillow is positioned so that your weight is evenly spread across it, and you are not sitting at an angle).
- Move your seat forward so that you aren’t straining to reach the pedals. If you can’t move it any further forward, try a pillow behind your back or even a peddle extension.
- Adjust your steering wheel down so that it’s easier to reach. If you have to lift your arms up to reach the steering wheel or you are stretching to reach it, adjust your steering wheel down. If you’ve got your steering wheel down as far as it will go, you may still want to try a pillow under your butt and/or behind your back, to move you forward and up to decrease the strain on your arms.
- Watch your posture. Try a lumbar support like they make for office chairs. It will help your posture as you drive and also gives you a little push forward. I often use one of these while riding as well as driving.
- Relax your foot. Make sure that you can rest the heel of your driving foot on the floor while driving. Being forced to have it hovering in the air causes your whole body to tense up. Avoid wearing shoes that don’t have good support (like flip-flops or sandals) and instead look for shoes with thicker soles to provide more support between your foot and the floor.
In the end, the only option may be changing cars; whether it’s trading with a spouse or trading in. If you do have to trade your car in, take your time and try different cars. Start with sitting in each car you are considering and adjusting the seat and steering wheel to the most comfortable position. If it seems comfortable at that point, pretend you are driving with your foot on the gas, then move it over to the brake. Do this a few times and within about 5 minutes you’ll likely know if you’re going to have pain. Don’t bother test driving a car if you can’t even get comfortable just sitting in it. If you start to feel pain while driving, stop and let someone else finish driving the car back to the dealer rather than extend your pain and possibly make it worse.
We have enough pain in our lives, there’s no reason that driving should make our chronic pain even worse.We have enough pain in our lives, there's no reason that driving should make our chronic pain even worse. 5 tips for driving with chronic pain. Click To Tweet
What kind of car do you drive? Does it make your chronic pain worse? Or do you find you can drive without aggravating the chronic pains?