Although it can feel like a natural sitting position for so many of us, we’ve probably been told at some point down the line that crossing your legs is bad for you. Maybe it was your mother, your teacher, or your friend, but someone likely told you that sitting with your legs crossed gives you varicose veins, raises your blood pressure, and wrecks your posture. But everyone does it (unless you’re Julie Andrews in The Princess Diaries, obv), so you have to wonder at some point if crossing your legs is actually that bad for you.
Does it cause lasting harm? Do we need to worry about how it’s affecting our health in the long run?
HelloGiggles spoke with Jennifer Wider, MD, a renowned women’s health expert and author, who wants to set the record straight. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this,” Dr. Wider says. We’ve been told so many different things from so many different sources, it’s no wonder we’re all confused about the effects of crossing your legs. For a moment, forget everything you’ve been told, and let’s get to the bottom of this together. The answers aren’t nearly as scary as you might think.
1. No, you can’t get varicose veins from crossing your legs
It’s probably the biggest myth about sitting cross-legged.
Let’s rewind for a moment and explain what varicose veins are. They’re enlarged veins that bulge out of the skin, due to blood collecting in the tiny valves of blood vessels that have become stretched and weakened. In other words, the blood won’t flow properly, so these veins become large and visible.
However, crossing your legs regularly isn’t scientifically linked to varicose veins. The causes of these veins isn’t really known. Some people have them, while others simply don’t. But across the board, scientists agree they don’t come from crossing your legs.
2. Crossing your legs can negatively affect your posture, though.
Just because it doesn’t give you varicose veins doesn’t mean crossing your legs is exactly good for you.
It can mess with the position of your hips, which affects your whole spine. If you think about it, crossing your legs leaves you a little lopsided, so it’s impossible to sit up perfectly straight when you’re leaning to one side. One study in particular actually showed that people who sat cross-legged for three or more hours had bad posture for most of the day.
3. That means you could suffer from back and neck pain.
Bad posture isn’t all about looks. It “can put a strain on your lower back,” Dr. Wider explains. Putting your body in a crooked position for an extended period of time could give you chronic pain in your lumbar spine, and even all the way up to your neck. Also, the slouching can result in shoulder pain because the rotator cuff muscles become compressed against the shoulder blade.
If this sounds familiar, you should rethink how you’re sitting so you don’t have to deal with any unnecessary pain. As soon as you feel the pain creep up your back, just uncross your legs and sit with feet flat on the floor, your back supported, and your legs at a 90 degree angle. Problem solved.
4. Sitting cross-legged does have some other negative side effects, but they’re not long-term.
Dr. Wider says crossing your legs can “cause other issues in your body” that are a bit on the serious side. Research conducted in 2007 showed that crossing your legs can lead to an increase in blood pressure (presumably by pushing the blood upward to your heart), but only briefly. There’s no long-term damage to be done to your heart if you prefer to sit cross-legged every now and then, but we wouldn’t recommend sitting that way all the time.
Overall, when you sit cross-legged, you sit with bad posture, and this is what bad posture gives you: fuzzy brain, stunted breathing, and difficulty focusing. Obviously, these aren’t things that are going to stay with you until the day you die. In fact, they’ll go away as soon as you straighten up and uncross your legs.
5. Crossing your legs compresses your nerves — but again, only temporarily.
If you feel your legs going a little bit numb, that’s your body’s signal to tell you that your nerves aren’t being treated that well, so it’s time to sit with your legs uncrossed.
All in all, crossing your legs isn’t that bad for you, but it’s not great either. You’re better off sitting up nice and tall, with proper posture. “In order to check and/or correct your body’s alignment, there are a number things of to do,” Dr. Wider recommends.
Make sure you’ve got a comfortable chair at work. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Make sure your knees are directly over your feet, and your hips are no lower than your knees. And most importantly, move around whenever you get the chance. Staying stagnant for too long is bound to make anyone experience unwanted pain.