Is Crossing Your Legs Bad for You and Your Health?
Updated: Apr 25
You've probably heard that sitting with legs crossed at the knees might be harmful to your health. But it's a habit most people have, and it's a tough one to kick whether you're working at your desk, dining at a restaurant or waiting in a waiting room.
In addition to that, we generally sit much more in this modern age, with fewer people working physical jobs and choosing sedentary work. Some people sit up to 8-10 hours a day (or more!)
Many women have also probably heard their teachers or grandmothers scold them for sitting with legs crossed, and this etiquette rule may have come from the potential negative side effects for health.
Feeling confused, many patients ask their doctors and physical therapists if that's all true. You can check other frequent questions that patients make to their therapists here.
Anyway, we've put together a full guide that answers the question, is crossing your legs bad for you and your health?
Why crossing your legs is bad for you?
1. Pain in the neck and back
One of the possible negative side effects of sitting crossed legged might surprise many. Surprisingly or not, pain in the neck and back is a real danger for those who love this sitting posture.
The reason is that when we cross our legs, there's pressure and compression on our knee, leg joints and nerves.
Sitting with one leg over the other for a long time means your hips are uneven, and your pelvic bone rotates and creates an imbalance in the pelvis and pressure on the spine. When that happens, pressure on the lower, middle parts of the back and the neck might occur.
Naturally, if this is your beloved posture, what starts as a short-term pain can develop into a long term problem, the longer you wait to change your habits.
2. It is bad for your knees
We're sitting much longer than our bodies are designed to do. Add sitting in various incorrect positions, including crossing one leg over the other, and we overstretch the ligaments and muscles around our knees.
This then leads to increased pressure on the knee joints and potential swelling and pain.
So when a person asks is crossing legs bad for knees, the short answer is yes, especially long term. To avoid that, it is important to regularly stretch out the legs and give your knees a break.
Check out other recommendations for knee pain and knee problems here.
3. It may cause hip pain
Sitting with one leg over the other could also be adding extra stress to the hip joint as this joint is not allowed to relax. Long term, this sitting posture may cause hip pain.
Crossing your legs or leaning over to one side while you're sitting can put more pressure on one or both hips.
Add improper sitting for 40-50 hours weekly for months or years and you also most likely have decreased strength in your hips, leading to discomfort, tension and pain.
Stretching out hips and kicking the habit of sitting with legs crossed are the first steps to prevent this from happening.
4. Crossing one leg over the other is not good for your blood flow
You probably have experienced your legs going numb after sitting with your legs crossed for a more extended period. And while it goes away quite soon, the long term effects can be serious.
When you sit with one leg over the other, you put pressure on your veins that are pumping and returning blood to the heart. Once you cross your legs, you create more pressure that hinders the blood flow and eventually can lead to vein inflammation and damage in the legs.
It's damaging for your health both generally and cosmetically. You might be at greater risk for a blood clot, higher blood pressure and varicose (spider) veins.
More than 40 million people in the United States suffer from varicose veins, and the prevalence of varicose veins is greater in women (55%) than men (45%).
With the risks being relatively high, it's definitely worth trying to break the habit.
5. It can affect your posture
Our sitting poses greatly influence our health, how our body moves, and our general posture.
Since sitting with the legs crossed at the knees puts pressure and compression on the knees, legs joints, keeps the hips uneven and rotates the pelvis long term, the shape of our body and general posture changes.
There are also other negative side effects. The thighs get tighter; the hip joins lock, the inner leg muscles get shorter, making the knees go in. When shifting our weight sight to side (switching legs), we're also throwing the pelvis off balance.
Lastly, people either hold their upper body too stiff or collapse when sitting cross-legged, which also alters the posture long term.
6. It can affect your nerves
Finally, sitting with one leg over the other creates potential damage to the peroneal nerve just behind the knee joint. This nerve is a part of the sciatic nerve, and when pinched, it can cause great pain.
Any pressure on this nerve, such as leg crossing, can cause numbness and tingling, and overtime may actually damage the nerve. This damage can result in long-term numbness and foot drop.
How to break the habit of crossing your legs?
Breaking the habit of sitting with legs crossed is not easy. Most people do it without thinking and have been sitting this way for years.
That's why you should try to practise mindfulness whenever you sit. If you notice you're sitting in the wrong posture, make changes crossing your legs at the ankles with the feet on the floor. This way, your pelvis and the entire spine is in a neutral position. There's also no negative tension on the ligaments, joints, and discs.
Another thing to remember is to keep your weight slightly in front of the sit bones. Both feet should be flat on the floor with your knees and hips as close to 90 degrees as possible.
To keep yourself reminded to check-in about the posture, try to take breaks when sitting, go for a walk around the room and stretch the legs.
Lastly, get an ergonomic chair that supports your lower back. And, if you need help to fix your posture by a professional therapist or masseuse contact Miracle Rehab Clinic.
We have specialists focused on helping you minimize your pain, who will also provide you advice to rehabilitate your posture.