Sitting with crossed legs on a chair or sofa is not encouraged in some parts of the world, while there are many cultures where it is considered positive. The polarization, however, is not on the lines of health or posture but rather cultural. In the West, this posture is taken as a sign of confidence. On the contrary, sitting cross-legged in Asian cultures is taken as a sign of disrespect towards the people present.
Beyond culture or beliefs lies science, which provides a rational reason why you should not sit cross-legged. It could create postural issues, say experts.
Sitting with crossed legs: Is it a good posture?
Sitting with crossed legs puts the spine and pelvis out of alignment, which leads to pain and stiffness in the lower back, hips and neck. It can also increase the risk of developing problems like sciatica and scoliosis.
“It is not a natural position,” elaborates Dr Darshan Angadi, consultant orthopedic surgeon, Altius Hospitals, Bangalore. “Sitting with crossed legs requires a certain amount of flexibility, which comes from the spinopelvic, hip and knee joints. If these joints are not flexible, it may lead to various issues. Sitting for a short duration does not have much impact, but if a person is habitually sitting in that posture for long periods, the body’s center of gravity shifts.”
In addition, sitting cross-legged leads to asymmetric weight distribution on either side of the body, where one side ends up taking more load than the other.
What happens when you sit with crossed legs?
“When you sit with crossed legs, your pelvis rotates and tilts to one side,” says Dr Jayaprasad, senior orthopedic surgeon, Kamineni Hospitals, LB Nagar, Hyderabad. “This puts your spine in an unnatural position and can strain your muscles and ligaments. It can also compress your nerves and blood vessels, which can lead to pain, numbness and tingling in your legs and feet.”
A certain amount of compression also occurs in the neurovascular structures – arteries, veins and the nerve that goes through the back of the knee. When you are sitting cross-legged, the kneecap directly compresses against these structures, causing stress and, over time, pain.
How does sitting cross-legged affect body posture?
- Pelvic tilt and rotation: The natural lordotic curve (natural curve of the lumbar area) of your body can flatten due to the rotation and tilt of your pelvis towards a particular side, causing your spine to curve abnormally. “If you are shifting the load to one side and stopping it from falling over the opposite side, the muscles contract even harder to keep the balance. This will fatigue the muscles, which can trigger muscle aches or pains,” says Dr Angadi.
- Increased lumbar lordosis: The curve in your lower back may become more pronounced or exaggerated, also referred to as lordosis. This can strain your lower back muscles and ligaments.
In addition, Dr Jayaprasad says that sitting with crossed legs can also lead to the following health complications:
- Lower back pain: Sitting crossed-legged can put strain on the lower back muscles and ligaments, which can lead to pain and stiffness.
- Sciatica: Sitting with crossed legs can also compress the sciatic nerve, which in turn can cause pain, numbness and a tingling sensation in your legs and feet.
- Scoliosis: Being in the posture for prolonged periods can contribute to the development of scoliosis — a condition where the spine curves abnormally.
- Greater trochanteric pain syndrome: Cross-legged sitting can irritate the greater trochanter, a bony prominence on the outside of the hip. This can lead to pain and tenderness.
- Varicose veins: The veins in your legs can also get compressed, which can increase your risk of developing varicose veins.
Sitting cross-legged: Is it harmful for the heart?
Some medical literature suggests that sitting cross-legged can be harmful for the heart, says Dr Krishna Chaitanya, lead consultant – vascular and endovascular surgery, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore. He adds, “There are veins on the back of the knee. When you place the hard knee of one leg onto the back of the knee of the other leg [while sitting cross-legged], technically, it can lead to compression of the veins. As a result, the blood below the knee might not be able to move up and may lead to deep vein thrombosis [blood clot formation in a deep vein, usually in the legs]. Sitting for a long time, cross-legged or otherwise, is a risk factor for clot formation.”
Experts say people with normal heart conditions can sit in any posture, including crossed-legged, provided it is for a short period of time. Dr Jyoti Kusnur, interventional cardiologist, Manipal Hospital, Goa, says, “You should not allow the blood to remain in the same position for too long. It is just like a river. If there is no obstruction and it is flowing fast, it will remain clean. Otherwise, it will collect muck. So, if you allow the blood flow to happen easily, there won’t be any clots. The reflexes in your body will anyway make you change your posture and help maintain a constant blood pressure, which can increase transiently. However, in people with weak-pumping hearts or heart failure, lying down flat for long is not advisable, as they can experience breathing difficulty.” They should seek advice from their doctor regarding the appropriate sleeping position.
Sitting cross-legged: How to kick the habit
Ideally, a person should sit in a position where the load is equally distributed on the joints that bear it. The key is to identify if you have a habit of sitting with crossed legs and then consciously make an effort to change the sitting posture.
- Sitting cross-legged is an unnatural position and is not conducive to the spine, pelvis and knee joints.
- Being in this posture for prolonged periods can cause your pelvis to rotate and tilt to one side. It can also compress your nerves and blood vessels, leading to pain, numbness and tingling in the legs and feet.
- Ideally, you should sit in a position where the load is equally distributed to the joints that are naturally designed to bear it.
With inputs from Akhila Damodaran