It is rare to find people who get excited about long car rides these days. Whether we are going to the grocery store or out of town, we always want to know exactly how many minutes of driving will be required.
This is because we are familiar with the aches and pains of sitting in the car for an extended period of time. Despite this resistance, Americans continue to spend more time in cars than ever before.
Can Driving Cause Leg Pain
So much time sitting in a confined position is counter-intuitive to the body’s natural need to get up and move around. The body requires physical motion to survive.
Pain is one of the most prominent ways our bodies complain to us about current conditions. Typically, the only body parts in motion are our right ankles and arms. This can be problematic, especially when the traffic flow resembles slow motion.
When we are unable to respond to our bodies’ cries for movement, pain is the result. Leg pain from driving is very common during long car rides. The further we travel without addressing the pain, the more intense it must become. That is; until we get the message.
Possible Reasons Your Leg Hurts from Driving
Most often leg pain from driving is associated with tension in the low back, hips, knees, and ankles. Most automobile seats force us into a slouched position, without the pelvis rotated back into the chair. This position puts a great deal of pressure on our sit bone, formally known as the ischium.
A sitting position can lead to direct pressure over our lower backs and gluteal muscles. Pressure prohibits fluid flow within the body. Thus, sitting in the car for long periods can limit fluid flow, and lead to inflammation of nerves and other vessels throughout the legs.
One of the most common forms of leg pain from driving stems from Sciatic Nerve irritation. The Sciatic Nerve is particularly sensitive to prolonged sitting. Pressure around the ischium, combined with Sciatic Nerve irritation, can lead to significant leg pain from driving.
Repeated car rides can also lead to tight hips and thigh muscles. Slouched posture places the hips and thighs into a contracted position, which leads to aches along the thighs, and up into the back.
Even with a manual transmission vehicle, relative leg movement is minimal when operating a car. Long drives leave the legs hanging below the heart, which impedes blood return flow from the legs and feet. This can cause fluid to pool in the lower leg, and is often felt as uncomfortable tingling, swelling, and aching.
While car travel is not going away any time soon for most of us, we need to address the source of our pain and seek opportunities to enhance our situations in favor of better results and less pain.
7 Best Ways to Avoid Leg Pain While Driving
1) Wedge Cushion
One of the most comfortable ways to reduce leg pain from driving is to place a car wedge cushion in the driver’s seat. Most wedge cushions are specifically designed to rotate your pelvis forward, which reduces pressure on the sit bones and sciatic nerve. In addition, a wedge cushion can support your low back in a more ergonomic posture.
Wedge cushions are widely available, and with a large variety to choose from. It is valuable to spend time researching brands and specs, in order to tailor the perfect wedge car cushion to your body and travel needs.
2) Lumbar Back Support for Car
Bracing up the chain is another way to reduce leg pain from driving. A back cushion support directly reduces the slouch posture. In turn, the tissues around the spine are no longer stressed to the same degree, and the nerves exiting the low back are less likely to become irritated during short car rides.
Supporting your lower back can be effective in reducing leg pain while driving. By increasing attention around our cores, we become more aware of our bodies’ needs to change positions and move around as needed.
3) Interval Stretch Breaks Outside Car
One of the most important considerations to reduce leg pain is cumulative drive time. During long car rides, it is important to get out of the car about every 2 hours. Although we want to complete long drives as safely possible, the potential for leg pain increases with increasing time spent seated.
Drinking water during breaks or in between personal tasks revitalizes and brings us back to awareness of the present moment.
Once we are stopped and out of the car, we can address points of discomfort with general body stretches. Many simple stretches can be performed briefly at rest stops, or even gas stations. A little bit of stretch time goes a long way to reduce leg pain when driving.
4) Interval Stretch Breaks Inside Car
Some days do not allow for stretch breaks outside of the car. We can still adapt! Stretching can be done safely inside the car, provided the priority always remains full attention on the road ahead.
Primary therapeutic movements in the car seat are isometric, meaning the muscles in the legs contract, but the leg does not move from one place to another. Think of isometrics as giving a hug to individual body parts. Squeezing the muscles around our hips, legs, and trunk can affect fluid flow, and relieve stress and pain.
5) Invest in alternative transportation
Literally one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce leg pain is to spend less time in car. This is counterintuitive in the first world, but very practical.
Investing in a reasonably priced bicycle for specific short-distance travel trips can very swiftly enhance blood flow to the body, encourage endorphin release, and immediately reduce pain associated with a slouched posture.
6) Compression socks
A nice pair of compression socks can also be used to treat leg pain from driving. Although compression socks were originally associated with hospital care for varicose veins, they have become very fashionable and variable to household use.
Compression socks can reduce the full volume of the leg dueto the elastic components. When put on, a nice pain of compression socks generally feel great. They also keep fluid from pooling into the legs, which relieves aches and pains in the legs and feet.
7) Heating Pad for Back Pain
Leg pain from driving can also be reduced by applying gentle heat around the lower back and hips. One of the more comforting investments one can make for a comfortable car ride is a heating seat pad or cover. Gentle heat across the car seat can significantly reduce stress levels that accompany leg pain from driving.
Warm sensations bring relaxation and positive sensations to attention. In turn, pain intensity is often reduced with the use of heating pads, so long as they are properly controlled to the comfort of the individual.
Driving remains necessary in the current age. Setting ourselves up for comfortable rides needs to be a top priority. We should feel good in the seat even before starting the engine.
Overall, we must remember that leg pain from driving is our body’s way of sending a clear message. Our legs want to be utilized for exploring, dancing, and jumping; not stuffed up into a steel frame for hours on end. While it is important to find ways to reduce leg pain from driving, we need to appreciate our body’s ability to move, by doing more of it whenever we are able.
Andrew Hodgdon is a practicing physical therapist and freelance writer. He enjoys reading and writing about physical therapy, and creating poetry. Andrew works with a passion for the underdog, a desire for social equity, and all things sustainable. When he is not sitting at a desk or on an exercise ball, Andrew is probably on a bicycle or outdoors with his wife and children.