From an early age, we have been told to “Sit like a lady/gentleman.” This usually means legs crossed at the knees, shoulders back, and no slouching. This behavior for a long time has been customary etiquette in the United States, and over time, has just become a habit for many of us.
Whether it is at the office, sitting in a waiting room, or relaxing at home, many people’s go-to posture is one leg over the other, crossed at the knee. If you’re like many of us, you spend too many hours of your day seated and sedentary, and for most of that time, you have crossed your legs for comfort.
But now it’s time to start thinking about the way you sit and prioritizing your health over what’s considered proper (and comfortable). That’s because research shows that sitting crossed-legged may actually be bad for your health and it is worse if you sit that way for too long.
We know a sedentary lifestyle boosts your risk for a number of health issues, including heart disease and cancer. But how is this related to crossing your legs, especially if you exercise and eat right? Here are some reasons that may surprise you:
A pain in the neck (and back and joints)
When we cross our legs, we are putting compression and pressure on our leg and knee joints and nerves. The way we sit is a huge determinant of our health and the way our body moves and functions. Sitting with our legs crossed leaves your hips uneven and forces your pelvic bone to rotate. The pelvic bone is the base of support for the spine; if left unstable, it can produce unnecessary pressure on the neck and the lower (lumbar) and middle (thoracic) sections of the back. Therefore, the longer you sit in this uneven position, the more pressure is placed on your knee and spine, increasing the likelihood that it will develop into a long-term issue.
It can affect your nerves
While unlikely to cause permanent nerve damage, this specific and common position does have a direct effect on the peroneal nerve just behind the knee joint. This nerve is a part of your sciatic nerve, which can cause pain when pinched or compromised. Sitting with your legs crossed often contributes to stiffness and walking problems, and is why you are numb after you sit for long periods.
It Negatively Affects Your Posture
Studies have found that poor posture increases pain in our joints, slows down digestion, affects our circulation, and even adds to our stress levels. Those who practice proper posture show a 25% decrease in cortisol levels, which is the hormone released when we are stressed. Those who sit cross-legged are found to slouch more often and their spines are out of alignment, so sit up straight!
It’s Not Good for Your Circulation
When you sit, your legs fight gravity to keep blood flowing as it normally should, making it even more challenging for blood to circulate to different areas of the body. This causes vein inflammation (spider and varicose veins), potentially putting you at greater risk for a blood clot and raising your blood pressure (hypertension).
To achieve optimal health, researchers recommend sitting with your knees and ankles at 90-degree angles and keeping your pelvis balanced as much as possible. Breaking this habit of sitting with your legs crossed may take time, but if you start slowing and stay consistent, you will start to notice an improvement.
To learn more about how to break the habit of crossing your legs, call Total Orthopaedic Care at (954) 735-3535. To schedule an appointment, you can call us or use our secure online appointment request form.