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Car Transfers - an overlooked problem?

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Car transfers, specifically the ability to get in and out of a car seat…. should be simple, right? However, when you have a physical limitation, especially involving stiffness/pain of the hips/knees or weakness in the arms, the ability to transfer into and out of a car safety, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner can quickly become very complicated and trying.

Let’s look at the main reasons people struggle with car transfers:

Issue #1: Trouble lifting the legs up into the car once you have sat down:

Associated Causes:

This is frequently associated with stiffness in the hip and knee joints usually with an arthritis, weakness in the legs or even difficult for people who have recently suffered some sort of orthopaedic trauma like leg fracture or dislocation.


While Physiotherapists can prescribe exercises to help promote leg strength for lifting the leg, or exercises to promote flexibility in the hip and knee joints, gains made do not usually happen overnight. As such, it may be that a simple aid like a leg lifter can make the difference to a person being able to get their leg(s) in/out of the car and make that important journey. Alternatively, lifting the legs in can be assisted by a second person, though if done frequently will add to risk of injury for the helper. However, manual handling can be improved by rolling up a long towel length ways and lopping under the lower calves to aid leg elevation.

Issue #2: Trouble swivelling the bum round on the seat

Associated Causes:

Sometimes this problem just comes form a culmination of lots of things, including: pain; fatigue; joint stiffness; and weakness of the leg and arm muscles. These all essentially add up and can act as a barrier when trying to pivot in the seat to sit forward on getting in or swivel back round to face the door when wanting to get out.


Anything which acts to reduce the friction created when you try to pivot on the seat will help. There are car seat swivel cushions which can be purchased to aid this part of the car transfer. These discs rotate 360 degrees on a swivel base, and tend to be easy fitting with anti-slip bases, often with removable covers for cleaning convenience. However, before even thinking about purchasing these – it may be worth trying a simple plastic bag as an alternative. Usually the older style/ cheaper type quality will be better in providing less friction when you swivel on your seat compared to using a more heavy-duty style of carrier bag.

Issue #3: Trouble pushing up from sitting to get out from the car

Associated Causes:

Trouble getting out of the seat, particularly after a longer car journey when people can stiffen up or become sore is probably the most common difficulty associated with car transfers. A big issue linked with this, can be lack of strength in the arms to push out. People in this category are at risk of trapping their fingers should they reach for the car door frame to pull up on.


There is a device on the market called a car cane. It slips into the clip found on the inside edge of the car door (which is seen once the door has been fully opened). Car canes are essentially an extra grabber to push up off. They tend to be better used on transfer out of the car than in, as they can get in the way when sitting down. Typically, these are affordable with some models even including double up features for use in accident-emergency situations including light, seat belt cutter or break glass hammer.

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