Features September 2007 Issue

Make Your Car Arthritis-Friendly

Ingenuity and helpful devices can make your driving safer and far more comfortable.

If arthritis makes driving a chore—painful to get in and out of your car, uncomfortable to sit in, difficult to manage controls—it may make sense to adapt your car to ease your discomfort...and there are plenty of ways you can do it.

Frederick Frost, M.D., chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department, recently completed a major study of vehicle adaptations for the disabled and arthritis-impaired. "Simple vehicle modifications," he says, "are quite safe and reliable. This includes key turners, simple hand controls, as well as modifications that ease access and seating in the vehicle."

A padded steering wheel cover, for instance, will make gripping more comfortable. A panoramic rear-view mirror and blind-spot mirrors added to your car’s sideview mirrors can give you a better view, with less twisting, if you have limited back or neck movement. Invest in some slip-on plastic key covers that enlarge the end you grip. Install overhead straps that you can grasp to help lighten your weight when getting in and out of your car. If your car seat has a tilt adjuster, set it so your knees are slightly higher than your buttocks (if they’re lower, it can stress your back).

Steven Remer, Ph.D., Dr. Frost’s associate, adds, "Seating is very important. You need proper cushioning to reduce pressure on your tailbone and support your lumbar spine. Head rests should be

Arthritis-easers (left to right): gas-cap helper, support handle, head-rest buffer, key turner, rotating seat. For these and more, search for “automotive assistive devices” on the Web.

properly adjusted to your head height. Add some padding—a small foam cylinder attached with Velcro straps will do—to bring your head rest closer to your head so that a sudden jolt from behind doesn’t injure your spine.

"Adapt your car to reduce discomfort and your driving will improve. With less pain, you’ll be able to devote more of your concentration to the road and respond to conditions more quickly and effectively."