When you’re struggling with the discomfort of Tietze Syndrome, there is no such thing as a quick trip. Even relatively short car rides can trigger bouts of intense pain that make the drive seem to last forever. Longer rides can leave you too sore to function.
If you’re reading this, then you probably already know what Tietze syndrome is, but here is a quick explanation just in case. The National Institutes of Health’s Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center says Tietze syndrome is “an inflammatory condition characterized by swelling of the cartilage that joins the upper ribs to the breastbone.” Doctors typically consider the condition more of an annoyance than a danger, despite the fact that no one seems to know exactly what causes it. Patients diagnosed with Tietze syndrome are generally advised to use heating pads, take anti-inflammatory medications to control pain and swelling, and limit troublesome activity.
Driving: a quick road to pain
Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to limit all troublesome activity because so many everyday activities cause pain. Driving is a prime example. I was diagnosed with Tietze Syndrome just in time for my sister’s wedding. Making the three-hour drive there was murder, with the vibration of the vehicle and every bump in the road seeming to go straight to my ribs. It didn’t help that the seat belt went directly over hot spots in my sternum and shoulder. And twisting to see or reaching for the radio? Ouch! Thankfully, I’ve learned a few tricks since then.
Set your mirrors properly
Twisting and turning hurts. Doing it against the restraining seat belt hurts worse. Save yourself some trouble by adjusting your vehicle’s mirrors properly so that you can minimize the need to twist around to see. You’ll still have some situations where you need to turn, like parking lots, but anything you can do to avoid triggering Tietze syndrome pain is helpful. And speaking of parking lots, if pull through spots are an option, grab them!
Get ready to go before you step on the gas
Are you a fan of the radio? Do you rely on a GPS unit to get you where you need to go? Dealing with things like the radio, GPS and climate control system before you put on your seat belt is a lot more comfortable than waiting until you’re on the road and have to lean into the seat belt to reach the controls. Take the time to get everything ready before you step on the gas and you’ll lower your risk of triggering Tietze syndrome pain on your drive.
Adjust your seat belt
With a career paramedic for a father, I’ve heard far too many horror stories to even consider riding in a car without a seat belt. But, having the pressure of the belt against my breastbone and left shoulder triggered muscle spasms that left me miserable. Then it dawned on me to adjust the belt to a more comfortable position. I initially tried using a small pillow to push the shoulder belt away from my torso a bit. That worked, but having to continually place the pillow was annoying. I finally got smart and wrapped a Velcro cable tie around the lap and shoulder belt. Now I just slide the Velcro loop over until the shoulder belt doesn’t hit any sore spots. If you prefer a store-bought solution, there are several seat belt adjusters available. Most are less than $10.
Choose your route wisely
The fastest route will only slow you down if it’s full of bumps that leave you too sore to move. Think about where speed bumps and railroad tracks are located. Consider which roads are in definite need of repaving and which ones are prone to stop and go traffic. Then choose the route that minimizes any jostling, even if it’s a little longer. Your ribs will thank you.
Don’t drive distracted
Study after study has shown that driving distracted slows reaction time. With Tietze’s syndrome, you want to drive as smoothly as possible, which means you need the maximum amount of warning so you don’t end up slamming on the brakes. Put down the cell phone and resist the urge to fiddle with the GPS or stereo. Just drive. You’ll be safer and have less pain.
For many people, driving or riding in a car isn’t something they can avoid. It can also be a trigger for Tietze Syndrome pain. But, with a little preparation, you can take steps to minimize the effects of driving on your Tietze syndrome.
For more tips on living with Tietze syndrome, click here.