Crossing your legs while you're sitting is a comfortable position for many of us, but you may have heard that crossing your legs isn't the healthiest position for your body. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it's true: crossing your legs for long periods of time isn't good for your body in a few ways. In fact, I can personally attest to this.
I started feeling persistent pain in my hips last year, which stuck around for so long I eventually started seeing a physical therapist. What I had thought was just a hip strain ended up being several related problems: a weak core, weak glutes, and a slightly tilted pelvis that was causing pain in my hips as well as my lower back. The core and glute strength I knew I could work on, and my PT gave me a workout I started doing religiously — but I'd never even heard of a pelvis getting "tilted" before. And my physical therapist said that one thing that causes and exacerbates this problem is (yep, you guessed it) crossing your legs for long periods of time, which I, of course, have been doing for years. (Especially while working from home.)
So why is crossing your legs a bad sitting position, and how should you sit instead? Uncross those legs and let's get into it.
Is Crossing Your Legs Bad For Your Posture?
Sitting with your legs crossed at the knee can create a few different issues for your posture, related to muscles, joints, and your bones. Here are a few potential problems:
- Crossing your legs can lead to pelvic tilt. A 2014 study found that sitting with crossed legs for three or more hours per day can cause lateral pelvic tilt, meaning that one hip will be higher than the other. The researchers explained that this position stretches the hip abductor muscles in your top leg and weakens your gluteus medius, one of the muscles on the side of your hip. When that muscle gets weak, it can allow your pelvis to shift out of place.
- Crossing your legs can cause spinal problems. When your legs are crossed at the knee, your range of hip flexion is lessened, and your body may compensate by forcing your lower back to bend. If you hold this position habitually, it can actually lead to scoliosis (when your spine curves sideways), which can lead to pain and muscle and joint issues.
- Crossing your legs can cause shoulder tilt. When you sit with your legs crossed, it typically shifts your upper body to one side. In the 2014 study, researchers noted that people who often sat with their legs crossed for three hours or more had "significantly" inclined shoulders, meaning that one shoulder was higher than the other.
- Crossing your legs can push your head forward and cause neck pain. The 2014 study also noted that the lower back bend caused by crossing your legs for three hours or more can also affect the position of your head, causing you to push it farther forward. This position can lead to neck pain and general muscle imbalances.
Is Crossing Your Legs Bad For Blood Pressure?
Crossing your legs while seated can also cause a temporary spike in blood pressure, which one 2010 study called a "significant" increase over patients' baseline blood pressure. This is the reason why healthcare professionals ask that you set your feet flat on the ground before measuring your blood pressure. It's important to note that this spike is temporary, but it still may be worth avoiding the crossed-legs position for long periods of time if you already have high blood pressure.
How Should I Sit Instead of Crossing My Legs?
There are plenty of ways to improve your posture, but when it comes to what to do with your legs, specifically, it's typically recommended to sit with your feet flat on the ground as much as possible. (You can place a stool or box under your feet if they don't touch.) My physical therapist also told me that sitting with my feet crossed at the ankle is OK — not as good as feet flat on the ground, but better than legs crossed at the knee. (She said sitting criss-cross is also acceptable, but I tend to slouch in that position.)
It's a hard habit to break, I'll be the first to admit. I often found myself shifting to one side, ready to cross one leg over, and had to force myself to set it back down and sit with my feet flat again. It's been about a year now, and I definitely sit with my ankles crossed more frequently now. If I feel like I need to change my leg position, I'll stand up for a second or walk around for a bit. It's not easy, but my pelvis is back in place after a few months of physical therapy and at-home exercises, and I'm not about to jeopardize that again.
So if you love to sit with your legs crossed, take it from me: it won't cause you serious harm, but it can definitely lead to some issues, especially with your posture, that you'd rather avoid. Set your feet flat on the floor and thank me later.