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How a Chronic Injury Can Create New Challenges for Your Commute

Approximately 133 million Americans suffer from at least one chronic medical condition. Most people can manage these ailments with medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and other treatments. However, some activities remain challenging. For instance, people with chronic injuries or pain can struggle with their daily commute.  

Many chronic conditions are “invisible illnesses.” This term refers to conditions with no visible symptoms. If they cannot see any outward signs of an injury, other passengers or transit operators might not be willing to make accommodations for you. 

Even with their chronic condition, most adults need to get to work, so they have to find ways to address these issues and maintain an acceptable level of comfort on their journey to and from the office. 

Here is a closer look at eight of the most common problems people with chronic pain or injury have when commuting to work by car, public transit, or other means. 

Difficulty Sitting for a Long Period of Time

Sitting is a relaxing proposition for most people, but for someone with chronic pain, it can be incredibly uncomfortable. A person with a herniated spinal disk and sciatica can experience intense nerve discomfort if they have to sit or remain in one position for long periods. 

Whether you drive or take a train or bus to work, you will likely be sitting or standing in one position for most of the journey. 

Physical therapists suggest learning to sit in an adaptive position to deal with back pain. Also, if possible, you can choose a type of public transit, such as a train, that allows you to get up and move around on your trip. 

In your own vehicle, you can consider adjusting the seat, adding an armrest, or using other supports to maintain a comfortable and ergonomically correct position

Lack of Consistent Seating Options

On public transport, you may not have consistent seating options. On crowded routes, you may not have seating at all. Hard plastic seats, common on some trains and buses, are uncomfortable for someone with a chronic injury like hip flexor tendonitis

Even within a train or bus system, different routes and vehicles could have different types of seats. In these situations, having a comfortable or painful ride is a matter of luck. 

You can either seek a mode of transport with consistent seat types or carry extra support with you on your trip. A portable cushion could provide the comfort and pain relief you need to enjoy your commute. 

Lack of Sufficient Space

Cars, buses, and trains often leave limited space for passengers. While people can ensure or ignore the cramped setting, the inability to move or the chance of being jostled in the seat can be very painful. 

For instance, someone with osteoarthritis experiences joint pain. Cramped seating may force them to hold their legs or arms in positions that cause ongoing pain. In some cases, the lack of movement from this condition could make it impossible to squeeze into a tight seat. 

Some trains and buses have accessible seating. If your pain is severe enough, you can consider using these seats, which often offer more space for improved accessibility. Other options include carpooling so that you can spread out in the passenger seat. 


Distraction is one of the biggest challenges for people with chronic injuries. If you are focused on pain or finding a comfortable position, you are not fully aware of what is happening around you. 

On public transportation, you can get away with occasional distractions, as long as you don’t miss your stop. However, if you are driving, distraction could have disastrous consequences. High-speed crashes or T-bone collisions could lead to concussions, internal injuries, and even more chronic pain in the future. 

Often, distractions lead to less severe crashes, such as rear-end collisions. In addition to vehicle damage and higher insurance rates, you might have to deal with injuries like whiplash. If you are already suffering from chronic pain, an accident causing a herniated disc or other back injury could further complicate your life. 

Limited Mobility

Many chronic injuries affect the musculoskeletal system. Problems in your bones, joints, and muscles can limit mobility, making it difficult to walk, bend your arms and legs, and get into and out of a seat. 

These movement challenges can complicate commuting. For instance, you may need extra time to get onto and off public transit, which can lead to missed stops and late arrival. 

Also, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) lists weakness and pain in legs and feet as risk factors for falls. The organization mentions chronic conditions like arthritis as a common culprit. Even if you can move with your chronic injury, a swerving train or bus, steps, or the need to move quickly on a transit platform could lead to falls, which might cause further injury. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates accessible public transit. If you are concerned about the danger of trips or falls, you can take advantage of these features. For example, you could exit the subway station or elevated train platform via an elevator instead of using the stairs. 

Physical Obstructions

A physical obstruction could be as simple as another vehicle parked too close to your own in your office building’s lot. This seemingly simple inconvenience could cause extra pain as you squeeze into your car or make the driver’s door inaccessible, causing a major delay. 

Stairs can be obstacles for people with chronic knee injuries, and heavy doors can cause pain for people with epicondylitis (also known as “tennis elbow”). 

These obstructions can cause tardiness or add to the amount of energy needed for your commute as you travel further to get around these barriers 

You can avoid vehicle accessibility issues by parking at the end of a row or backing into your spot, if possible. You might also consider accessible parking. Eligibility for accessible parking permits varies by state but often includes people who cannot walk without assistance or have a high risk of falling. 

ADA compliance means elevators or ramps are available in most public buildings to help you get around obstacles. 


Daily commutes are stressful for everyone. Pain and strain can make the ordeal even more challenging for people with chronic injuries. You may arrive at work already fatigued by your trip and unable to focus on your daily tasks. 

Tiredness can also affect your commute. The effects of fatigue include impaired judgment, the inability to concentrate, and poor reaction times. Whether you are in a car or on public transport, these side effects can increase the likelihood of an accident. 

In addition to getting appropriate rest at night, account for fatigue in your commute planning. For instance, you might think you can endure sitting on a hard subway seat for a few minutes, but using a cushion might help you arrive at your station without the energy-sapping soreness or pain. Limiting these minor discomforts throughout the day may help reduce your tiredness.  

Interference From Other People

Other people may interfere with your ability to get to your workplace or school. The idea of an invisible illness is important in these instances because people may not realize your limitations and react appropriately. 

At a crosswalk, a driver might expect you to walk more quickly and could hit you with their car when you do not react as they expect. Though the consequences may not be as severe, other pedestrians could run into you, or a cyclist could hit you with their bicycle

Chronic injuries can dramatically impact your day-to-day life, so it’s important to seek out legal resources. If you are injured on your commute, whether people are aware of your condition or not, you could be entitled to compensation in a car accident settlement or lawsuit. It’s important to explore your legal options to get the care you need.