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Can driving cause ankle pain?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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Driving can be a common cause of joint pain, particularly for the ankles. If your car seat is not positioned correctly, it can cause strain on your ankle joints and result in pain. When sitting too close to the pedals, ankle joints are over-flexed, and if the seat isn't high enough, your tendons and heels will also experience higher pressure.

Making sure you have your seat set to a comfortable position before you set off can help you to prevent any avoidable pain in your ankles and feet - particularly if you often take long journeys.

Driving with the seat in an incorrect position can lead to a medical condition known as driver's foot. We will take a look at this condition in further detail throughout the article.

What is driver's foot?

Driver's foot is a condition that can cause pain in the ankles while driving. It can be caused by the repetitive motion of pressing down on the accelerator and brake pedals, resulting in inflammation and soreness in the feet.

It usually occurs during long car journeys where you are stuck in a traffic jam and are constantly on and off the brake and accelerator pedals. One of the main causes is having the driver's seat incorrectly positioned.

If you are sharing a car with a partner or family member, it is unlikely you are both the same height, meaning the seat will need adjusting each time you change drivers. This can help you prevent driver's foot from developing. We will go over some more tips on how to avoid driver's foot later on.

Symptoms of driver's foot

The most common symptoms of driver's foot are:

  • Foot cramp - This can occur due to applying consistent pressure on the accelerator and brake pedals when driving.
  • Heel pain - Bruising and pain in the heel area may occur if you sit in a car with your feet on the floor for an extended period. It can feel similar to having sore feet after standing for a long time. If you still feel pain in your heels even when you are not driving it could be a sign of plantar fasciitis.
  • Ball of foot pain - The big toe joint near the ball of the foot can become inflamed and cause pain.
  • Pain across the top of the foot - Prolonged braking while stuck in traffic can cause the top of the foot to ache. Pushing down on the pedals harder than normal can also result in pain on the top of your foot. This should go away quickly and you can help by flexing the muscles in your feet to get rid of it even faster. Rotating your feet in circles should allow you to shake off the pain.

How to prevent driver's foot

Driver’s foot can easily be prevented by doing the following:

  • Wear comfortable footwear - Always make sure to wear comfortable shoes such as flats or athletic running shoes when driving. You would not exercise in high heels or flip-flops so you should not drive in them either. An athletic shoe will provide the cushioning your feet need. You should consider leaving a spare pair in your car just for driving in case you are going somewhere that requires a different style of shoe.
  • Use custom orthotics - Podiatrists can provide custom orthotics which can make your shoes more comfortable when driving. This helps to reduce pressure on particular points of your feet.
  • Adjust the seat to a comfortable position - The position of the driver's seat is very important. If it is not adjusted correctly for the driver it can lead to pain in the feet and ankles. If your seat is too close to the pedals, it can cause strain on the ankles. If the height of the seat is not adjusted properly, it can put pressure on the tendons in your feet, as well as on the back of your heel.
  • Oil pedals regularly - If your accelerator and brake pedals become stiff over time, this will result in you using more pressure to push them. This can cause pain in the top of your feet so it is worth making sure the pedals are oiled and can be pushed down.
  • Apply ice - To reduce swelling and inflammation after a long day of driving, put ice on your feet and keep them elevated.
  • Have a foot massage - After driving, massaging the feet can help loosen up the muscles that may have tightened while driving.
  • Avoid driving for long periods - Try to avoid long unnecessary drives and if you do need to travel a long distance, take regular breaks. Allowing yourself the chance to get out of the car and walk around a bit can help your feet relax and not be stuck in the same repetitive position for hours on end.

Does driver's foot require treatment?

Driver's foot will usually go away shortly after you have gotten out of the car so it should not require any treatment. If you find your feet and ankles are painful after driving you could try applying ice or have a foot massage like we have already mentioned. You could also try some of the following products: FlexiSEQ gel, Deep Heat gel, Deep Freeze gel, and Tiger Balm White Ointment.

If you find the pain is very severe and impacts your day to day life, this could be a sign of something more serious, so you should speak to your doctor or healthcare professional for advice.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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