Driving with RSI
You can change things in your car to make driving easier and safer for you. Driving can cause pain in the arms, neck and shoulders. It’s important to be as relaxed as you possibly can. The ideal solution is to have as much of your car automated as possible:
- The most important option is for the car to be an automatic – manuals just make things more complicated.
- Another very helpful option is power steering.
- Other options like central locking, power windows and mirrors, and power seat controls also cut down on activity.
Our members stress that the ease of power steering and central locking vary between models. So try before you buy – take the car for a test drive and open the boot, doors and petrol tank to test how much effort is required. It is important for safety’s sake to be very aware of your limitations while driving. Can you operate everything in the car? That is, can you turn the key in all the locks and ignition; open and close the doors, windows, boot and hood; adjust seats, seat belts and mirrors; for an automatic car, operate the release button on the gear stick and, in a manual car, change gears; apply and release the hand-brake; operate the dashboard equipment, for example the windscreen wipers and lights?
What features to look for when driving with RSI
You might like to consider the following:
- steering knob attachment for your steering wheel or a padded steering wheel cover
- power steering or rear-wheel drive to make steering easier
- automatic transmission so both of your hands are free for steering
- keyless entry and locking – no need to put a key in a lock or even press a button
- dash-mounted gear change – very easy on the hands
- rear-vision camera – less twisting of the neck
- foot-operated handbrake
- slatted driver head support – easier to see through; less neck-twisting
- a good match between your body, the controls and seat; you need to be able to control the vehicle while in as comfortable a position as possible. Some people find it helps to sit quite close to the steering wheel.
Sometimes trading in or modifying your car is worthwhile. A lumbar support roll would be a simple modification. Talk to your doctor about what would be best and if a disabled parking sticker would help. Remember to take breaks and change your posture. Share the driving or join a car pool.
Accessories to make driving with RSI easier
Of course, buying a new car with all the extras is not always a realistic solution. Some more affordable adjustments you can make to your existing car include:
- steering wheel covers that make the wheel much easier to grip, especially ones that make the wheel substantially thicker, like lambs’ wool
- key-holders to make car keys easier to handle are available
- wide-angle mirrors, like the ones used when pulling a camper van, increase the amount of rear vision and reduce the need to crane your head around.
- Some RSI sufferers find the pull of the seat-belt on their shoulder uncomfortable. Some members suggest that you attach a peg at the top of the belt. This prevents it from winding all the way in. The bit of slack that it leaves takes the pressure off your shoulder. Please note, however, we are not sure about the safety of this method. Others use a lambs’ wool seatbelt cover to warm their upper shoulder.
Member tips for driving with RSI
Apart from adjusting the car, you can adjust the way you drive. Some of our committee members’ driving habits include:
- abandoning the “10 and 2” method of holding the steering wheel (where your hands grip the wheel towards the top at “10 o’clock” and “2 o’clock”) and holding the steering wheel at the base, “5 o’clock” and “7 o’clock” so that you can rest your arms on your legs and reduce the amount of grip needed from your hands
- driving through to the opposite park so you don’t have to back out
- using two hands to pull up the handbrake
- getting passengers to check your blind-spot
- making sure you are as relaxed as possible when driving
- check that your shoulders are loose and that you’re gripping the wheel gently
- vary your hand position often
- ensure that you have proper lumbar support for your back.
Please also remember that you must feel safe and confident with the driving style you adopt. If you don’t feel that you have full control of the car, don’t drive.
Like all of the activities that have been covered here, if it causes you pain then the best thing to do is avoid it. There’s always public transport, which has the added benefits of being economical and environmentally-friendly.
Public transport can also cause some problems, particularly at peak times. If you do have to stand up on a bus or train try the following:
- loop your arm around the pole instead of holding onto it with your hands
- place your bag between your feet rather than trying to hold it.
For more information take a look at our Helping Hand sheet ‘Making Driving Easier’.
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