Is Crossing Your Legs Bad For You?
Crossing your legs seems like a natural sitting position but can it actually be bad for you?
Aside from claims that it raises your blood pressure or that it can cause varicose veins, regularly sitting with your legs crossed may result in a stooped posture, lower back pain, neck pain, and/or hip discomfort. This seemingly harmless sitting position could be contributing to aches and pains and actually increasing your chance of further injury.
When you cross one leg over the other, muscle imbalances are created in the lower back and the hips which can contribute to pelvic and sacral dysfunction as your body naturally shifts to one side. The pelvic imbalance eventually makes the hip flexor and inner thigh muscles shorter and the outer thigh muscle longer, putting your joints at risk for stiffness and dysfunction. Your pelvis also rolls backward and “unstacks” the spine, putting pressure on the lower back and forcing you into a leaning position favoring the side that the leg is crossed over. You end up with tight muscles on one side and on the other side, muscles that are weakened and overstretched. No good!
Sitting with your legs crossed slightly twists the spine which may lead to back pain, neck pain, and disc problems. For PT patients who experience back pain, it is recommended that they work on breaking the habit of crossing their legs as it may lead to compensation and stiffness, making their symptoms worse. Sitting this way after treatment can even undo physical therapy work that has already been done. It becomes a constant battle of reactivating muscles and restabilizing the pelvis and sacrum. Finding a neutral position is key to begin stabilizing better. When your pelvis is in a neutral position, the rest of the spine can also find a more neutral position
So I can’t cross my legs…how am I supposed to sit?
If you’re used to crossing your legs while sitting, it can be a particularly difficult habit to break as many of us do it without even thinking. It may take some time to get used to but practicing crossing your legs down at the ankles with your feet on the floor allows your pelvis to sit in a neutral position so that the rest of your spine can also be in a neutral position. Your stabilizing muscles can activate best in this position as there’s no negative tension on the ligaments, joints, and discs.
To find that neutral posture, your weight should be just slightly in front of the sit bones. To find this while seated, roll back and forth so you can feel your sit bones. Make sure both feet are flat on the floor with your knees and hips as close to 90 degrees as possible.