If you’ve switched cars due to SI joint dysfunction, you’re not alone.

Hi everyone–

One of the things I enjoy about running this blog is that, the more I hear from readers, the more I realize I was never alone, in the issues I’ve had.

Something I haven’t even written about much on this blog is how much trouble I had, over the years, driving (or even riding) in a car.  It wasn’t my top priority to write about, because I wasn’t sure how many people had had the same problems as me in that area.

However, I just heard from a reader who’s struggling just as much as I did, and it made me realize there are probably way more people with the exact same issue out there.

So, here is what I have to say:

The reader who reached out to me had already switched cars once, only to find her new car wasn’t a comfortable as she’d hoped.  She was at somewhat of a loss, trying to decide if it was worth selling this new car and starting again.

I can really relate to her situation.  As you may remember, when I first developed SI joint dysfunction, I had already been dealing with an injury called chondromalacia patella in my knees.

At the time, I had been driving an old 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee and found that the gas and brake pedal required too much force out of my knees– like I had to sort of “stomp” on the pedals to get the car to do anything.

I “temporarily” switched cars with my mom, so I could drive her brand new 2010 Ford Fusion sedan (thanks Mom!).  Once I developed my SI joint issues, I was really grateful that I was already using this car.  Even though my knees healed relatively quickly, I knew that having to “stomp” on the pedals in my Jeep would have been too much for my SI joints.

I also couldn’t imagine how I’d climb in and out of the Jeep (I’m only 5’4″).  The truth is, I even had to be super careful how I got in and out of the Fusion.  Even though it was at a much better height for me, I was still really careful to try to keep my pelvis in neutral.  I sat down straight, with my back to the car, and then slowly rotated in with my butt on the seat.  But I led with my legs, and tried to move my torso as one unit.

I still do this.

If you really want to know the truth, I still do this.  Although I don’t move as slowly or fearfully as I used to, it’s how I move now without thinking.  Learning to be mindful of my body and move more gracefully was a big part of my recovery, and I’m not in a big rush to give it up.   I know that twisting is one of my risk factors… so I choose not to risk it.  It doesn’t cost me anything, and it doesn’t really take any extra time.  I’m at peace with the fact that there are always certain things I’ll need to do to maintain my progress, and now I use my movement patterns as an opportunity to make sure I’m checking in and mindful of my body.

Sometimes, I think people think of recovery from going back to being able to do every single thing you used to do before, the way you used to do it…. but should that really always be the goal?  I like moving gracefully… I like being in touch with my body… this, I am okay with.

Anyway… back to my story.

So… I ended up hanging on to my Mom’s Fusion. My Jeep was so old it needed to be replaced anyway, so I ended up buying the Fusion off of my mom and she got a different car (a newer Fusion!).

So… a 2010 Fusion was my car.  And sometimes, I got really frustrated with it.  Although it was the right height, and easy to get in and out of, over time I came to feel that it didn’t provide much cushioning going over bumps.

Compared to friends’ cars, I felt that the whole thing rocked back and forth when going over a bump, in aw way that seemed totally unnecessary.  One of my good friends at the time had an all-wheel drive Subaru outback, and I felt virtually nothing in the road from her car.

So… over the years, I debated switching cars again.  

However, I was really hesitant to sink a lot of money into a new car when I wasn’t sure.  It seemed like there were a lot of hidden drawbacks to everything I considered.

Considering a Subaru

For example, I found my friend’s Subaru Outback to be extremely comfortable going over bumps, but the times I actually drove it, I found that the transmission was a bit harder to deal with.

I’ve noticed this to be true of Subaru’s in general.  The way the Subaru transmission is designed, you have to step on the brake pedal pretty frequently to get the car to keep moving forward.  In most cars, you’re able to “coast” quite a bit more, after pressing on the gas pedal, before you need to press it. In the Subaru felt like I had to constantly stomp on the gas pedal.  So, I crossed that off the list.

Considering an SUV

My sister drives a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe– a really tall SUV.  I always loved to be a passenger in it because I felt almost nothing from the bumps in the road.

In general, I think you feel less if you’re up higher in an SUV.  So whenever my sister and I going somewhere together, I always wanted to take her car.  And I was also considering switching to an SUV myself.

But then, my sister went on vacation for a week, and let me borrow her car (thanks, Becky!).  I was so excited… and was using it to do a lot of errands and go back and forth.  I was really trying to get a good feel for the car.

But after about day 4, I found my body was getting really exhausted from climbing in and out of it.  It hadn’t been noticeable, when I’d just been hanging out with my sister a few times a month.

But now, getting in and out multiple times a day… my body just wasn’t used to it.

Before developing SI joint dysfunction, I wouldn’t have thought much of it.  I would have thought fine, my muscles aren’t used to it, but they’ll get stronger.   I would have just bought the car I wanted.

But then, I’d learned things aren’t so simple with SI joint dysfunction. 

You need the muscles around the SI joint to be strong and keep it in place.  Once those muscles are tired, they can’t support the joint as well.  So, by Day 4, it wasn’t just that my muscles felt tired.  I was actually starting to feel pain in my SI joints.

It wasn’t just pain from the movement of getting in and out, which hadn’t been painful on Day 1.  Instead, it was the pain of performing a potentially difficult motion when my muscles were not able to support the joint at the same time.  Really, it was a combination of factors– a difficult movement and a lack of muscle strength.

By this point in time, I’d dealt with this problem for long enough at that point to recognize when a “small” issue had the potential to snowball into a much larger issue over a relatively small period of time.  So.. that was the end of my considering an SUV.

It takes time to recognize how any car is going to work for you.

This was the basis of the advice I gave to the reader who reached out to me for help.

As I mentioned above, she had already switched cars once, only to find the car she switched was not as comfortable as she’d expected.

So much of the advice I gave to her is actually the result of some of the brain-storming I’ve had to do myself, over the years.

My advice:

1) It may be possible to change the seat you’re sitting in, without selling the whole car. 

I did a little bit of research before answering this reader, and found that it is possible to have a garage install a different seat than the one your car came with.  This might be sort of an odd request at your average garage, but I think, if you were to look into it, you might find that it’s possible.  I’d expect you might have better luck at custom auto body shops/small businesses, versus at a dealer.

I found this video, which is about changing seats for fun, but it gives you an idea. I guess what you’d be looking for is an “after-market” seat.

2) Look into leasing, rather than buying.  

I know that buying is generally a more cost-efficient option, compared to leasing.  However, in the case of SI joint dysfunction, when there’s a chance your body might not react to any car in the way you want, I think leasing can be worth it.

As you can see from my stories above, I believe it takes time to realize how your body will adapt to having another car.    If I had only test driven my sister’s SUV on a lot, I never would have known that the height would bother me, and I probably would have bought it.

3) Another way to try out different cars, without committing, is car-sharing programs. 

You can do something like Zipcar, where you’re renting from one company.  Or, if you don’t want to pay for a membership, you can check out an app like Turo, where you’re renting directly from the car’s owner.

Again– it may seem really pricey for someone who’s used to owning a car to pay by the hour.  But if you step back and look at it in the grand scheme of things, you’ll be saving both time and money by getting the chance to do your “research” and really see how your body reacts to a car over time.

This is how you recover from SI joint dysfunction: don’t stop and think about what other people think. 

And don’t worry about conventional wisdom (such as the idea buying is always cheaper than leasing). When you have a problem this complicated… you deserve to do things in a way that will work for you.  I won’t think you’re weird, and neither will anyone else reading this blog.

In case you’re curious…. this is my dream car:

Although I don’t necessarily love my 2010 Ford Fusion SE…. my DREAM car is the Ford Fusion Titanium.  It’s the top of the line and a lot more expensive.  Howeverthis is the car the rental agency gave me during my trip to San Francisco… and I loved it.  It had everything I liked about my Fusion– the height, and that it was easy to get in and out of… and SO much shock absorption.  I felt practically nothing from the road.  If you are looking for a car that cushions you from bumps (and can afford this car), I totally recommend that you test drive it.

Okay… that is all I have to say for now!

For a related post, I recommend my post The SI Joint and Shock Absorption.  It talks a bit more about why going over bumps in the car is so painful when you have SI joint dysfunction (and also explains a little bit more about my car struggles!).

I hope this was helpful.  As always, if you have any questions, you can leave a comment below or email me at sunlightinwinter12@gmail.com.

Thanks!

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