how to stop feet from hurting when drivingAre you a road warrior? Do you love to hit the open road and drive for hours at a time. If so, you may have experienced the pain of “Driver’s Foot”. What’s that you wonder? Driver’s foot isn’t one condition but a group of foot conditions that result from doing a lot of things wrong while driving for long periods.

While driving for many hours will certainly put you at greater risk for this condition, so will the following factors:

  • Driving with a manual transmission (both feet may be affected since you need to use a clutch along with the gas pedal.
  • Stiff pedals
  • Not using cruise control
  • Bad seating-if your seat is not fitting well for you, your foot could be at an angle that increases your risk
  • Wearing inappropriate shoes
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Not taking breaks often enough

Symptoms of Driver’s Foot

  • Pain (in your heel, top of foot, big toe, ankle joint)
  • Stiffness
  • Numbness
  • Burning
  • Swelling
  • Cramping

Foot Conditions That Cause Driver’s Foot

As I mentioned several foot conditions can result from driving too long with your foot on the accelerator.

1. Heel Pain and Bruised Heels

The rocking motion from applying and releasing the brakes can cause heel pain and bruised heels. Other common causes of heel pain are plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis which can become worse with driving long distances.

2. Fluid Retention and Swelling

Another problem that can occur is fluid retention which results in swelling. This is more likely to occur on your left foot and ankle if you drive an automatic car. Fluid retention is more common in women who are pregnant and in people with poor circulation or a heart condition.

3. Ball of Foot Pain

You can develop pain in the ball of your foot from the repetitive pressing of the accelerator and brakes. One ball of foot pain condition called, Morton’s Neuroma, causes numbness and tingling and can worsen as a result of long-distance driving from the constant pressure on this part of the foot. That pain is felt between the 3rd and 4th toes of the foot. Another condition called Metatarsalgia can be felt across the entire ball of the foot.

4. Top of Foot and Big Toe Pain

You may also feel pain on the top of your foot and big toe from extended driving in the form of extensor tendonitis or inflammation of the tendons. Holding the brake too long when stopped in traffic or excessive force on stiff pedals are likely causes.

5. Foot Cramps

Muscle fatigue, dehydration, and tight shoes may also come into play while driving causing foot cramps.

6. Ankle Pain

Sitting for long hours without a break and awkward positioning of the foot while driving can lead to stiffness and pain in the ankle.

Treatment and Prevention for Driver’s Foot

While foot pain is common for long distance drivers, it’s not inevitable. There’s a lot you can do to treat it and prevent it from recurring.

  • Take breaks—driving for long periods isn’t just bad for your feet and ankles but for your entire body. When you plan a trip plan in enough time for 10-15 minute stretch breaks. Get out of your car, do some yoga, and some foot exercises.
  • Make sure your seat is adjusted properly—your seat positioning affects your foot positioning, and this can make a big difference in preventing foot pain. If you have electric seat controls and you’re driving for longer than one hour, change the position of your seat slightly forward or backward from the gas pedal.
  • Wear proper shoes—poor shoes can make conditions like plantar fasciitis worse. Make sure your shoes provide proper cushioning and support. Tennis shoes are a good choice. Hokas have plenty of cushioning. Avoid wearing flip flops or high heels when you drive. And make sure you have plenty of room in the toe box.
  • Custom orthotics—if you’ve developed plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, you’ll probably need to get custom orthotics from a podiatrist. Keep in mind that your condition was likely caused by other activities in your life, flat feet, and tight calf muscles. Your driving may simply be the straw that broke the camel’s back if you developed one of these conditions during that time.
  • Use cruise control—cruise control is there for a reason. It relieves your body from excessive pressing on the gas pedal. Make use of it.
  • Keep hydrated--drinking plenty of water on your trip will help prevent foot and ankle cramps.
Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.
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