Sitting with legs crossed comes with health risks

Mon, Mar 30th 2015, 11:34 PM

Sitting with legs crossed is a common way to sit, which most of us do at some time. But there are potential health risks that come with sitting that way. Many of you probably cross your legs at least once while you're having dinner, working at your desk or pretty much any time you sit down. Often you don't even realize you're doing it; it's automatic.

You just sit and cross one leg over the other, like you've done for years. Experts are now saying you might want to rethink that habit. Crossing your legs while sitting can actually have some negative health effects.

Sitting with legs crossed can cause back and neck pain

The best posture for sitting is to sit facing forward with both feet planted squarely on the floor. Unfortunately, that rarely happens because it may feel uncomfortable and look awkward. Most of us shift our weight around while sitting, leaning from side to side, bending over or even crossing our legs.

According to orthopedic physical therapist Vivian Eisenstadt, sitting with legs crossed is not the best way to sit and can cause back and neck pain. Sitting with your legs crossed puts your hips in a twisted position, which will rotate one of your pelvic bones at the base of the spine, putting unnecessary pressure on your neck, lower and middle back. The longer you sit with your legs crossed, the more pressure you put on your spine and the higher the likelihood you'll develop this problem. After a long time of doing this you can have back and neck pain or even herniated discs.

Sitting with legs crossed is possibly linked to spider veins

Spider veins are fairly common. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men in the U.S. have them. The medical community is divided on the link between crossing your legs and getting spider veins. While some doctors say spider veins are solely caused by genetics, pregnancy and standing or sitting for long periods of time, noted vascular specialist, Dr. Russell Samson says he has never seen spider veins caused by crossing your legs. He says sitting crossed leg is only bad if you sit there for a very, very long time, because really what you should be doing is exercising.

Others like Hooman Madyoon, a cardiologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center who specializes in the treatment of venous diseases agrees that there is an indirect link between the two. He explains that crossing your legs increases the pressure on your veins that are responsible for returning blood back to your heart. The pressure of one leg on top of the other slows your blood flow, which can weaken or damage the veins in your legs. If the veins are damaged or weakened, the blood can leak into them and collect there, causing spider veins or making the ones you have worse.

Sitting crossed leg can increase your blood pressure

Crossing your legs at the knee while sitting can cause your blood pressure to go up for a short while. According to a study published in the journal "Blood Pressure Monitoring", sitting with your legs crossed at the knee can raise your systolic (top number) blood pressure nearly seven percent and diastolic (bottom number) by two percent. The blood in your legs has to be pumped back to your heart against gravity, explains Madyoon.

That's already a tough task, but when you cross one leg over the other, it increases resistance to the blood flow even more. As a result, your body has to increase your blood pressure in order to push your blood back up to your heart. You may not notice this increase in blood pressure, but over time if you sit this way for long periods this can impact your blood pressure.

Sitting with legs crossed messes with the nerves in your feet

Crossing your legs doesn't just affect the blood pressure and the veins, it can affect the nerves in your legs and feet too. Crossing your legs at the knee can cause pressure on your peroneal nerve, the major nerve in your leg that goes just below your knee and down the outer side of your leg to the side of the foot. This pressure can cause numbness and tingling or even temporary paralysis of some of the muscles in your foot and leg. You may have a feeling like the foot went to sleep and woke up or a "pins and needles" sensation. Sometimes it may prevent you from being able to lift up your feet.

Podiatrist Richard Graves agrees and says while the feeling is only temporary, sitting with your legs crossed in the same position for very long periods can also cause nerve damage and you may develop long-term numbness.

Tips to prevent foot and leg damage from sitting crossed leg
The best way to sit is with the back and neck straight, pelvis balanced, feet on the ground and your knees and ankles at 90 degrees. Now it's unrealistic that you'll have perfect posture every time you sit down, but it's best to not sit crossed leg or to limit it. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and feel it may be from sitting crossed leg, stop sitting crossed leg or at least decrease the amount of time sitting this way and see if that makes a difference in your symptoms.

If you chose to sit crossed leg, consider uncrossing them regularly maybe every two to four minutes to encourage blood flow and decrease pressure on the nerves. This can help minimize damage to the nerve and symptoms until you can stop the habit entirely. If you are sitting crossed leg for any extended periods of time, like when traveling, it is good to stand periodically or exercise the leg by flexing the feet up and down, which tightens the leg and helps pump blood out of the veins in the leg. This will pump out stagnant blood and prevent blood clots.

The jury is out on if sitting crossed leg can cause all of these health risks, but there is no debate on this, it is best not to sit with your legs crossed.

o For more information or to see a podiatrist, visit Bahamas Foot Centre Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996; Bahamas Surgical Associates, Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820; or email us at, or visit

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