To say driving with AS can be an uncomfortable experience is probably a huge understatement for many reading this. Whether it’s the pain of getting in or out of the car, turning your head to use the mirrors or (worst of all) having to twist around to reverse, even driving short distances could be gruelling and exhausting for people with AS. For longer trips, the situation can be even worse – or just not be possible at all for some people.
This posts, puts together a few checks and tips to help make getting from A to Z as comfortable – and as safe – as it can possibly be.
Before you get going
Just as it is for non-driving days, being as fit and healthy as possible before getting into the car is the best preparation you can do for the journey ahead.1 Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are the best ways to make your AS (and therefore your drive) as comfortable as possible.1,2 Another easy tip is to make sure you’re properly hydrated and you’ve eaten well – so you don’t add hunger or thirst to the list of AS-related problems.
It’s important that you’re legally allowed to drive. In some countries, if AS impairs your ability to drive you need to let the authorities know before you get going, so check what you need to do before you get behind the wheel.
It’s important that you’re legally allowed to drive. In some countries,3 if AS impairs your ability to drive you need to let the authorities know before you get going, so check what you need to do before you get behind the wheel.
The best way to avoid the discomfort of driving is to not drive at all. Although public transport comes with its own set of logistical problems, being on a train or bus does give you the luxury of getting up and moving around at regular intervals. Depending on where you live, there are also car share services,4 where you can tag a lift with other people who’ll do the driving for you for a small fee.
Customise your ride
A comfortable driving position is key to staying comfortable, so adjust your seat, mirrors and (if possible) steering wheel and make sure there’s nothing in your back pockets: what’s uncomfortable when you set off will become painful pretty quickly.
Getting the head rest in the right position is really important too – even a gentle collision from behind can be agony for people with AS, so make sure your neck and head are supported.
If you’re finding turning your head to be really stiff (and that twisting your head and back round when reversing even worse) fit a panoramic mirror over your current main mirror – it offers a much wider view and relief for your neck. Blind spot mirrors also help increase the view either side and behind your car, helping you keep the amount you need to turn your head to a minimum.
The road ahead
Plan your route carefully before you leave: for short trips, use route finders to find the quickest and most traffic-free routes, to minimise long, stop-start trips. For new routes, use Google Earth to check roads for speed bumps and other painful road obstacles you can do without.
For longer trips, use a sat nav to plan in regular rest stops. A five-minute break – to rest, change position and stretch – every hour is a good plan. Plotting in POIs (Points of Interest) like picnic spots, service stations or local beauty spots into the sat nav helps break up the journey in ways that are a bit more pleasant and safer than just pulling over on major routes.
Going the distance
For those more daunting longer trips, plan ahead with food, drink and pain control. Make sure, if you’re taking strong painkillers, that you don’t take a dose that makes you drowsy or (depending on the country that you live) doesn’t break any ‘drug driving’ laws.5
As ever, using heat to deal with stiffness and cold to treat inflammation is a good technique, alternating hot and cold (but remembering never to put heat on an inflamed joint). Re-usable heat packs and cold packs are a great thing to tuck into the small of your back (or put on other sore joints) on longer trips. If you can afford it, there are even electric heat wraps you can buy, that are powered from a car cigarette lighter.
This article was written by one of the resident experts at ThisASLife.com. A social site, helping the whole AS community to: Learn. Share. Inspire. Discuss.
1. Durcan L et al. J Rheumatol 2012; 39(12):2310–2314.
2. O’Dwyer T et al. Rheumatol Int 2014; 34(7): 887–902.
3. 3. UK government advice on driving with AS https://www.gov.uk/ankylosing-spondylitis-and-driving. Last accessed June 2015. 4. Liftshare.com home page https://carshare.liftshare.com/ Last accessed June 2015.
5. Article on drug driving from Think! – a UK government road safety initiative http://think.direct.gov.uk/drug-driving.html Last accessed June 2015.