Crossing Your Legs: Here’s Why You Should Break the Habit

A young woman wearing business casual attire sitting in a chair with her arms and legs crossed.

Many people cross their legs when they sit down. If you’re one of them, you may want to adjust your habit. Crossing your legs isn’t doing your circulation or your veins any favors. A cross-legged position puts unnecessary pressure on specific areas of your body. This pressure can lead to circulatory problems and ultimately contribute to vein disease or venous insufficiency.

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Is Crossing Your Legs Bad for You?

So why is crossing your legs bad for you — and is it really all that bad? Consider this:

When you sit for extended periods, you may notice that your feet, legs, or buttocks begin to tingle and sometimes may become completely numb. This occurs because of constricted blood flow to these areas of the body. Sitting with crossed legs or crossed ankles can make it even harder for your blood to keep flowing. These positions can strain your circulatory system and damage your veins. 

The good news is that crossing your legs or ankles is simply a bad habit and behavior can be changed relatively easily. For instance, if you work in a job that requires long periods of sitting, you may need to take frequent breaks to move around. If you cannot leave your desk, you can try stretching or massaging your legs in place. These actions can help get your blood flowing properly again.

Crossing Your Legs Damages Your Veins

Arteries pump blood away from your heart, and veins carry it back. Varicose and spider veins happen when tiny one-way valves inside your veins become damaged and are unable to pump blood back to your heart. Instead, blood flows the wrong way and begins to pool, usually in the lower extremities, thanks to gravity and the fact that people spend most of their time in an upright or standing position. Unfortunately, legs and ankles are located in that lower portion of the body. 

Symptoms of Vein Disease

Along with causing varicose veins, vein disease can lead to a range of other symptoms, including:

  • Tired, aching legs
  • Burning in the calves or thighs
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Leg pain that reduces when you walk or raise your legs
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Difficulty standing for long periods
  • Leg wounds that won’t heal
  • Dry, itchy skin

Untreated vein issues can lead to dangerous health conditions. Venous ulcers are open, non-healing wounds that can leave you susceptible to infection. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a severe type of blood clot that is life-threatening.

Crossing Your Legs & Blood Pressure

It may seem like a harmless way to sit, but crossing your legs can actually increase your blood pressure. The reason why has to do with how the crossed position affects your veins.

When you sit with your legs crossed, the vessels in your leg are compressed. This prevents blood from flowing freely and causes it to pool in your leg. In order to get the blood flowing again, your heart has to work harder, which in turn raises your blood pressure.

Studies show that crossing your legs only temporarily raises blood pressure, but still, it’s something to keep in mind.

So if you’re looking to keep your blood pressure in check, it’s best to avoid crossing your legs. Instead, try sitting with both feet on the ground or take a walk to get the blood flowing properly.

Nerve Damage from Crossing Your Legs

Nerve damage from crossing your legs is a very real possibility that you shouldn’t overlook. Crossing your legs too much over extended periods of time can lead to what is known as peroneal nerve palsy, which occurs when the legs are crossed and held in that position for too long. It can cause muscle weakness and even pain due to the pressure on the outside of your knee pressing against the nerve. When this happens, it can cause numbness or tingling in your feet, making it difficult to move your legs or ankles. In some cases, it may even lead to a lack of balance and coordination due to weakness in the muscles around the ankle joint.

The best way to avoid this condition is by having good posture and avoiding crossing your legs for extended periods of time.

Sitting Cross-Legged & Effects on Posture

Sitting for long periods of time with your legs crossed at the knees puts your pelvis in a suboptimal rotation. This can cause pain in your lower back. It can also lead to a misaligned spine over time.

When you have poor posture, your body weight works against you, making your muscles constantly work overtime trying to stabilize your body. This causes muscle fatigue and stiffness.

Risk Factors That Make Leg Crossing Even More Detrimental

More than 30% of the US population is affected by vein disease or venous insufficiency. People with additional risk factors should definitely try to break the bad habit of crossing their legs and ankles. Genetics and aging both play significant roles in developing venous issues, so if you have relatives with spider or varicose veins, it’s more likely that you will get them as well. You are also considered at increased risk if you are:

  • A woman
  • Pregnant
  • A smoker
  • Hypertensive
  • Diabetic
  • Inactive
  • Overweight
  • In a job that requires prolonged sitting or standing

Signs of Poor Circulation

To resolve minor venous issues before they become major health problems, look for signs of poor circulation, such as:

  • Cold feet or legs: this may indicate reduced blood flow.
  • Swollen legs, ankles, or feet: can mean that your vein valves are malfunctioning.
  • Muscle cramping: You may experience muscle pain when blood circulation is affected.
  • Tingling/Numbness: Poor circulation due to crossed legs can lead to tingling or numbness in your legs or feet.
  • Skin discoloration: can occur due to a lack of blood flow.
  • Leg wounds: open, non-healing wounds may be signs of advancing vein disease.
  • Varicose veins: When blood pools, it can cause varicose veins to form.

Along with contributing to circulatory issues, cross-legged sitting can lead to other health problems, too. For instance, sitting cross-legged can affect your posture and eventually lead to hip and back pain. Start working now to break the habit. Your legs, hip joints, back, and especially your veins will thank you.

If you’d like to see a doctor about venous issues, give us a call at (913) 541-3377 in Overland Park or (816) 792-1188 in Liberty or schedule an appointment online.

Whether you’re seeking relief from discomfort, fatigue or unsightliness of spider or varicose veins, the Vein Clinic of Greater Kansas City works to deliver maximum results with minimum recovery time. We’ll get you back on your legs…and back to living. Contact us today for an office visit!