By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff
I went back to work after an extended maternity leave in early April, and soon after, my back problems flared up. After trying PT with no success, I set an appointment with my chiropractor who quickly deduced that my new behavior was long drives–not having a child. I was fine picking up my son and carrying him throughout my leave. It was not until I combined it with the driving associated with my job that the pain kicked in.
With my chiropractors help, I figured out that the way I was sitting in my car was a problem–hips askew, slouchy, one leg at a bad angle with no support… not a great way to sit for the almost 2-hour commute, especially when you add the tension I hold in my body when dealing with the stress of driving–all those other drivers out there that weave, tailgate, aren’t paying attention.
So, back to some mindful driving for me with awareness of how I’m holding my body, regular stretching at home, and doing some stretching that is safe while driving. I also am implementing some stress relief while driving which for me includes use of my smartphone for funny podcasts, good music, and anti-stress music. In case you haven’t already heard, there are actual songs proven to reduce anxiety so I listen to Marconi Union’s Weightless when I need to. I’ve even used it to calm my colicky baby with some success. At the very least, it calms me so I can help him when he’s screaming. Another option would be the Lotus Bud (ios) app which sounds a chime randomly throughout the day to remind you to check in for a mindful moment–how is your body feeling? What are you thinking about? Where are you? Another mindful app that is useful that can also do check-ins is Mindfulness Daily (ios). Sometimes I find these mindful apps helpful and other times they annoy me. Its worth giving them a try to see if they are useful to you.
Since I’m talking AT for driving, I’d like to share some other resources and AT for driving:
- Michele Seybert did a great, extensive webinar for us on vehicle modifications.
- The Handybar is a device which is a sturdy handle with a downward pointing beak that extends about 4 inches. It fits snuggly into the U shaped metal piece in the car
door frame that the lock engages with. When the door is opened, the device wedges into this closed U shape metal piece, providing a stable, strong handle from which to push yourself to a standing position.
- I frequently demonstrate the swivel seat which is a round, gel-filled cushion on a lazy susan bearing that helps people swing their feet in and out of the car (sometimes a plastic grocery bag can do the trick for this too).
- At a recent presentation, a woman said she keeps long kitchen tongs in her car so she can reach things on the other side of the car or things she has dropped.
- I use a Bucky every day to help support my lower back which helps my chronic upper back pain. It is a buckwheat filled lumbar pillow.
- One of our demonstrations sites, Disability Network West Michigan, in Muskegon, recently worked with a person that needed an extended seat belt so she could fit her seatbelt around her body safely. The AT person at Disability Network, was told that extended seatbelts are illegal. They did some checking with the local police and this is not the case. She also learned that you don’t have to purchase the extenders made by the car manufacturer. There are other options online that are much more affordable.
- My car, a Toyota RAV4 has Bluetooth capacity to let me use my phone hands-free. This will help my upper back pain as well as provide better safety while driving. It also is easier to get into and out of than my old car, a Honda Civic.
- Several years ago, my friend Carolyn shared with me that some vehicle manufacturers were selling people expensive key turning aids. People with hand strength disabilities, especially arthritis, have a hard time with the pinching and turning motion required to turn on some cars (some now turn on with a button). There are far more affordable alternatives to the vehicle manufacturer devices called key turners. They give a bigger handle to grip and provide leverage.
What devices help you to drive or ride in a car? What works well for you? What has not worked?