When any part of your body or group of muscles is repetitively used, you become vulnerable to repetitive strain injury or RSI. This is a type of injury which can encompass many different conditions (think carpal tunnel, for example).
When it comes to people who drive for a living, such as truck drivers, professional racers, or sales reps, who spend long hours behind the wheel, they often complain about elbow pain from driving – a symptom which is much more common than you may realise. Repetitively changing gears and turning the steering wheel for long periods of time with no rest can strain your elbow and lead to a condition termed ‘lateral epicondylitis’ (also known as tennis elbow).
Symptoms of this condition include stiffness of the forearm and elbow, numb or cold hands (from poor circulation), having the outside of your elbow painful to touch, as well as pain when lifting or gripping items. The elbow pain experienced by drivers can start with a small ache every now and then and progress to frequent pain over time.
‘But what is the cause of this pain?’ you may ask. Getting down to the anatomical level, small tears occur in the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to your arm bone at the elbow joint. These torn tendons can become inflamed, leading to stiffness, which can reduce your range of motion and decrease your enjoyment of everyday activities that involve using your elbow or forearm.
While our bodies are not built for sitting for extended periods with our arms and elbows in strange positions, many driving careers depend on this and it can be difficult to simply stop driving. Which is why we’ve provided a list of actions you can take to reduce your elbow pain.
Treating Your Driver’s Elbow
The Correct Posture – maintaining the correct driving posture can go a long way to feeling less stiff. Your steering wheel should be 25 to 30cm away from your breastbone, and your back should be flush with your seat and headrest, with your seat at a 100-degree angle.
Avoid holding the steering wheel too tightly (your arms should be slightly bent, so don’t push your seat too far back), relax your arms, and frequently change up the way you grip the wheel.
Check Your Power Steering Fluid – If you have the privilege of having power steering, then it’s a good idea to check that you’re not low on power steering fluid, as this will result in you putting more effort into steering the car.
Daily Exercises – The more you get your arm moving, the more you can help your body get oxygen and blood flowing to the muscles you use to bend your elbow. Improving your circulation can help reduce any inflammation you may have. Daily exercises such as clenching your fist (you can use a stress ball for this) and wrist extensions can help loosen up your rigid elbow. You should also stretch your arms out before and after every trip.
Give Your Muscles a Break – Plan for longer trips if you can, so that you can pull over to take breaks. Try to take breaks every 30 minutes to relax your arms. If you can’t take breaks and are on a straight, easy to navigate road with minimal traffic, then keep one arm on wheel as you relax or stretch the other. You can also give your muscles a break by using elbow braces or splints.
These actions for relieving your elbow pain from driving should be a huge help. Thankfully, surgery is hardly needed, and it just takes a few lifestyle tweaks, some cortisone injections, and some anti-inflammatory medications (which we can assist you with).
If your pain persists, please don’t hesitate to book a consult, so you can have your elbow seen to.