Driver’s knee or “gas pedal knee” is a common knee injury for the truckers, taxi drivers, and commuters out there.
It can progress from a minor, niggling issue, to significant knee pain if you spend a lot of time driving. I’ve seen this issue a lot, so let’s put our foot down and get it fixed early!
What Is Drivers Knee?
Driver’s knee is knee discomfort caused by patellar tendinitis – and is also known as jumper’s knee, or “gas pedal knee”. It’s an injury of the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shin.
The physical effects of driver’s knee are comparable to other repetitive motion injuries like tennis elbow and can become severe causing chondromalacia patellae.
What Causes Knee Pain When Driving?
Driving puts a lot of strain on your knees, creating inflammation. When you press the accelerator and brake repetitively and use a heavy clutch pedal, small tears can form over time.
When chronic, this movement can aggravate the ligaments and other structures around the knee joint, creating soreness and discomfort.
What begins as patellar tendonitis may proceed to chondromalacia patella – a degeneration of the tissue in your knees that causes pain and the possibility of permanent loss of movement.
If you’ve had driving knee pain for a while, read up on which type of doctor to see.
If you’re experiencing driver’s knee pain, it could be from:
- inadequate fit of your car/truck steering wheel
- worn out, or poor quality seat
- muscle imbalance
- repetitive movements of your knee cap over a long hours
- pelvic asymmetry – an alignment issue affecting knee mechanics
How to Avoid Knee Pain When Driving
Let’s fix the set-up of your cockpit, including the seat and steering wheel positions.
Use a seat wedge
When you drive, strain builds up and the tendons surrounding your knee become painful, making driving difficult. But how can we change the position of the knee joint to alleviate the tension? I recommend a firm seat wedge.
I suggest these to any person sitting or driving for long hours.
A seat wedge gives a bit more height and a slight forward angle, to cancel out the damaging effects of the deepest part of a seat. “Bucket” seat shapes are terrible for your spine!
A wedge takes stress off your intervertebral discs, and changes your hip angle, alleviating pressure at the knee. Here are some photos of optimal seat position, which applies to office chairs too.
What about Lumbar support?
If you want to use lumbar support, just pop it behind your lower back, and this should work just fine with a seat wedge in play too.
However, the most important part of the seat to fix is the lower part, where your sitting bones go!
Optimal steering wheel height and position
- Check that your car seat is at the right height and also that the steering wheel is correctly set. While driving, avoid going up excessively high or low.
- You should not shift too far back from the steering wheel – merely as much to give yourself a little respite and relax those legs that have been sitting in the same spot for an extended period.
- When you’re gripping the steering wheel, your elbow should not be farther than a couple of inches away from your torso.
Make sure your right leg and left leg are a reasonable distance apart – your medial collateral ligaments may be getting stressed if the pedals are too wide for your body size. If you’re driving manual transmission a lot, this can be an issue!
If your vehicle doesn’t have many seat adjustment options, the seat wedge (or a tightly folded towel under your sitting bones) is the way to go.
My personal set up is shown below:
Get moving to fix and prevent driving knee issues
Take frequent breaks from driving to prevent poor posture and the problems that stem from it.
This is absolutely essential in avoiding not only knee pain, but a host of other issues like weak back and leg muscles, shoulder pain, or the nasty trucker’s leg syndrome.
Research findings show that many chronic health issues can arise from sedentary positioning (too much sitting, not enough moving) such as lower back pain . It’s a contributing factor to spinal disc herniation.
Furthermore, a decent stretch both before and after driving will help, allowing you to focus during road trips and reduce discomfort.
Stretches for driving knee pain
Stretch the muscles of your thighs and legs as much as possible to prevent locking your knees, especially if your car has a manual transmission/ stick shift. But don’t go overboard. Walk often, and perform these stretches frequently – even on days off!
For a full set of stretches and knee strength exercises, see this post about a similar knee issue – Hiker’s knee. They also apply to driver’s knee.
1. When seated, try not to allow your knees to lock
If you discover yourself habitually locking your knees when sitting, try not to do so since locked knees exert tension on the lower leg and produce pain. Avoiding placing one leg over the other also helps since this prevents strain on the knee joints.
It will be okay so long as you shift postures often and don’t lock the knee joint in the same position for a long time!
2. Practice yoga positions to make your body more resilient
This is a great technique to keep your body moving between those driving sessions. You may strengthen your spine, thighs, as well as other muscles and tissues in your body by doing so. In this manner, when you resume driving, the tension on your muscles would be reduced.
We have a simple sequence of yoga poses you can start with today. Originally designed for shoulder pain sufferers, they serve as a great starting point for anyone new to yoga, and they are gentle on the knees. Do the positions you find most relaxing and effective for your body.
3. Put on supportive shoes, and wear a knee brace to reduce stress at the knee joint
They must not put any additional strain or discomfort on your knees or feet. Wearing flat shoes can flare up the knee joint, because the Achilles tendon has to work harder.
It’s already working hard pushing on those pedals, so give it some help by wearing good shoes with a slight heel! A simple knee brace can be a good idea if you are in the acute stages of knee problems.
Get frequent checks at your chiro and physio
Regular examinations from your physical therapist are essential for you to guarantee that nothing severe will come from your driving. Learn to be mindful of the signs that could require medicine or surgery later on.
Prevention has always been better than cure! Lots of driving can be a cause of knee pain without injury.
Our chiropractors are trained to deal with the fallout of bad posture and too much driving. Drop us a line if you need help, in the comments below.
If you intend on traveling frequently, it is also a smart idea to have your feet and lower legs massaged on a consistent basis for optimal blood flow and muscle healing.
Home leg massagers are now reasonably priced, so you can look into that as well. Treat yourself! You can help yourself avoid deep-vein thrombosis from driving, too.
Fixing knee pain for good
- Estimates of knee pain prevalence is around 46% of the population, according to the Lancet, so orthopedic surgeons are kept busy with knee ops!
- Never let your driver’s knee turn into severe pain. The later stages of treatment for long-standing issues can be invasive and costly.
- The reality is driver’s knee is often a simple fix – use a seat wedge and stretch every day.
- For others, it’s more involved requiring complete lifestyle change and a range of treatment options including physical therapy.
Have you battled knee pain when driving? If you need help, comment below so our community can keep in touch.
Please be aware that all the information on physickle.com is strictly for general education purposes only.
Nothing viewed on this site should delay you from seeking out medical advice or substitute any advice, diagnosis or treatment prescribed by your health professional – please see our website terms if you’d like any more clarification.
1.Burdorf, Alex, Bart Naaktgeboren, and Hans CWM de Groot. “Occupational risk factors for low back pain among sedentary workers.” Journal of Occupational Medicine (1993): 1213-1220.
2.Kim, In Je et al. “Prevalence of knee pain and its influence on quality of life and physical function in the Korean elderly population: a community based cross-sectional study.” Journal of Korean medical science vol. 26,9 (2011)
4.Centers for disease control and prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/travel.html