One of the most special things about your teen years is when you get to apply for your driving license. I still remember the excitement I felt with the ability to drive and the accompanying freedom it brought with it.
You can go out with your friends, you can take interstate trips and you no longer need to wait for a parent to pick you up from track practice or any after school sessions. Learning how to drive is truly one of the first steps towards adulthood and growing up!
But folks, let’s not forget that this is also a complex activity that needs to be carried out with utmost responsibility and care. I won’t bore you with sermons about the dangers of drinking and driving (surely your parents will do a great job of drilling that into you). But there are some things few talk about when it comes to driving and I for one would have benefitted if somebody had given me this advice when I first got my driver’s license.
I am talking about driver’s fatigue and the shooting pain one may feel in their leg after or sometimes even during a long drive. In the following sections I will get into how you can avoid this pain, but first, let’s understand why it happens in the first place.
Why Does Your Leg Pain While Driving?
If you experience strained muscles and leg pain while driving, don’t worry, this is not an early sign of aging! This can happen to anybody because you will be engaging your feet (especially the right foot) on the foot pedal for very long. Since your knee is folded in a specific position for so long, it causes tension in the nerves surrounding the knee, which can in turn cause pain down the leg and even cause your leg to fall asleep.
Your leg may also hurt if the seat is too far from the wheel and you have to stretch to reach the foot pedal and the steering wheel comfortably. Reaching for the steering wheel causes you to slouch and sit in an incorrect posture, which in turn puts pressure on your nerves through the lower back. Reaching for the foot pedal also puts undue pressure on your tendons and can cause pain.
Ways to Manage Leg Pain While Driving
So now let’s get to the main crux of this post—what do you do to avoid leg pain while driving? While it does not sound like an issue too serious, you do not want to be caught off guard by a shooting leg cramp when your foot is on the gas! Neither do you want to exert yourself so much while driving on a road trip that you cannot complete the rest of your trip. The following are some of the ways in which you can avoid the leg pain while you are driving:
Stretch before/after a Long Drive
One of the first things to do if you know you are going to be driving for a long time is to stretch well before getting into the driver’s seat. When you stretch, your muscles will be slightly more relaxed and have less chance of cramping up or feeling tense while you are driving.
If there is any tension built up in the body, the stretching will loosen it up and prepare you for a long drive. The logic here is the same as when you warm up before exercising or going for a run. Stretching prepares your body in the same way before you settle into your car for a long drive.
Similarly, it is important to stretch after the drive as well as there will certainly be tension built up in your knees, ankles and lower back from long hours of sitting and engaging the breaks and the gas pedal (also the clutch if you drive a stick). Stretching after the drive will prevent you from being too tired to drive back.
Use a Wedge Cushion
A wedge cushion is, as the name suggests, a cushion you can wedge in between your hips and the seat. These cushions are very soft and take the shape of your form. But they also provide some much-needed support to your hips so they don’t get locked during a long drive.
The nerves at your hips also go down to the legs and if they become tense you may feel some pain and discomfort while driving. The cushion prevents the nerves from compressing as much and keeps the blood circulation in your legs going.
Mesh Back Support
A mesh back support is simply a layer you can put between your spine and the seat’s backrest. When your back is supported, it will also relieve the pressure put on the nerves from long hours of sitting. If your spine is not supported or there is tension in your lower back, it will have a direct impact on your legs and driving fatigue.
You may have heard of things like sciatica pain, which begins in the lower back and runs along the sciatic nerve which begins in the spinal area, going to the buttocks and then descends to the limbs. While not all driving pain is sciatica (though those who suffer from this pain may be at risk of aggravating it while driving), but the description of this pain will help you to see the correlation between your spine and your legs.
Therefore, it is important to keep your lower back comfortable and avoid the compression of nerves in that region.
Take a Break
I would highly recommend taking frequent breaks during a long drive. The second you feel your muscles tightening or that you could do with stretching your back and want to walk around a bit, look for a rest stop.
If you have a long drive, you will be wasting more time driving tired than taking a few minutes to stop and rest. Your body is not used to sitting for such a long time and frankly, it’s not good for your knees to be folded for so long.
If you are slightly older, you may even see fluid collecting in your feet from sitting for so long. It is important, therefore, to take a break when you need one and to keep the blood circulation going.
Correct Your Posture
I cannot emphasize enough the value of a correct posture. This does not apply for only when you are driving, but also for every waking moment! You may not see the impact your posture has on pain when you are young, but this is the best time to fix your posture so you do not have to feel painful consequences later! As you grow older, even the slightest misalignment in your posture can cause pain in the back, neck, hip, legs, etc.
While driving, it is of utmost importance to keep your back and shoulders straight. You should also keep your foot on the rest so the arch of your foot does not become tense over time.
Accordingly, adjust your seat so your hands can reach the steering wheel comfortably and your feet can be placed on the footrest with ease. To that end, correct the height of your seat as well. Ideally, your knees and your hip joint should be at the same level to avoid compression of the nerves.
Use a Knee Brace
People often assume that a knee brace is for the elderly, people with injuries, athletes, etc. However, it is perfectly okay to wear a knee brace while driving even if you do not meet any of those criteria. A knee brace is a good way to avoid pain while driving as they will provide support to your leg muscles.
A knee brace is also a good way of checking your alignment and keeping your leg in the right position to avoid cramping and nerve compression. No matter how young or youthful you are, there is no shame or harm in wearing a knee brace while driving!
Driving is a hugely exciting activity that can change your life for the better. You can become more independent, you can carry out your own tasks without relying on somebody else to drive you to places and you also do not have to rely on public transport for longer distances.
A road trip can be one of the most memorable experiences when in the company of loved friends and family. However, the same road trip can also give your leg muscles a lot of grief if you do not give yourself enough rest and do not keep your position in check.
I hope the tips I have provided above help you enjoy long drives, as those are truly the better part of knowing how to drive. You can take in the scenery around you and you can cut through all the city traffic when you are on a highway.
But even more importantly, these tricks will help you be comfortable when you are stuck in bumper-to-bumper city traffic and have nowhere to escape!