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Article: To Cross Or Not To Cross?


To Cross Or Not To Cross?

to cross or not

Crossing your legs is something so many of us do without any thought whatsoever. In fact it can feel almost unnatural or uncomfortable to sit for long without crossing your legs. But does crossing your legs negatively impact on the health and appearance of your limbs or not?

The answer to this one rather depends who you talk to and where you do your research. Talk to a chiropractor and you’ll hear words of warning over back and neck pain because of way leg crossing can impact on your posture; ask a vascular surgeon and you’re likely to be told you will encourage the formation of spider veins at the spot where the knee impacts on the back of the calf; and one historian I unearthed at the British Museum revealed that leg crossing had spiritual meaning – that it should be avoided while at spiritualist seances but actively done for the whole of Valentine’s Day to bring good luck to singletons looking for love.

In a book of English folklore from the 17th century a certain John Aubrey commented that “when one has ill luck at cards, ’tis common to say that somebody sits with his legged across, and brings him ill luck”.

Leg crossing has also long been linked to morality and etiquette. In some countries and cultures it’s looked on as casual, disrespectful and altogether lower class. For the same reasons, many orthodox religions frown upon leg crossing in church. And what’s good for the soul should be good for the feet right?

From a health point of view, while leg crossing may not the worst thing in the world, it’s not brilliant either. And if you do have broken veins on your calves or suffer with back issues, it’s perhaps worth understanding how crossing your legs is thought by some to contribute to these issues. Let’s go.


Having negative postural impact

Leg crossing is thought to lead to bad posture and its downstream effects on the back, hip and pelvis. Certainly, those with back and hip problems may experience discomfort when crossing their legs. Try it yourself and you may feel the muscles of your back tightening a little. If those same areas were otherwise inflamed it’s easy to understand why leg crossing could seem problematic.

But what is cause and effect is unclear, and it may be that sitting in bad chairs for long periods is more to blame than what we are doing with our legs to cope.

Some chiropractors think it shortens your inner thigh muscle and lengths your outer thigh muscle, resulting in pelvic imbalance and putting your joints at risk of moving out of plan. There is also some evidence that leg crossing could reduce strain on abdominal muscles and improve joint stability, which could actually be beneficial in some cases.


The blood pressure connection

Your doctor will often tell you to uncross your legs because blood pressure rises slightly when you cross your legs at the knee. Some people are even able to use this increase in blood pressure to their advantage by crossing their legs to prevent an impending faint. But while high blood pressure is bad for your health, there is no evidence that leg crossing contributes to the condition.

Increasing your chance of spider veins

The habit of sitting with your legs crossed can make it more likely that you will develop spider veins because it increases the pressure on your veins and impedes blood flow. The vessels then weaken and narrow and allow blood to flow back in. Blood can then pool in the legs and your veins swell.

Varicose veins are another reason we’re told not to cross our legs. But while these unsightly, swollen blood vessels occur as a result of damage to the small valves that normally keep the blood moving in one direction: straight back to the heart. In those with varicose veins, some blood refluxes out into the small veins on the surface which subsequently balloon under the pressure.

Varicose veins are more common in women, especially those who have had (many) children and with advancing age.

Crossing your legs may draw attention to varicose veins but it’s not their cause.


Damaging your nerves

Staying in your crossed legged position for several hours, can even lead to a condition called peroneal nerve palsy. Palsy causes reduced muscle strength. It makes it much more difficult to lift your foot, twist your ankle and wiggle your toes.

Prolonged compression of the (peroneal) nerve that runs along the outer part of your knee can sometimes make your foot ‘fall asleep’ after crossing your legs. After a few seconds things will usually return to normal. In some people, it takes a bit longer (minutes).

In a very small number, prolonged and/or habitual leg crossing may damage the nerve, and probably has more to do with a special susceptibility rather than the behaviour itself.

In men, crossing your legs while wearing trousers raises the temperature of the groin area. This has led to the suggestion that would-be fathers should not cross their legs (or for the same reason wear tight fitting underwear and balance a laptop). But you’d probably have to leave them crossed for many hours every day to have any effect on your sperm count. And besides, most men tend to rotate their hip out when crossing their legs for long periods to make a figure of four and so alleviate any unwanted tension.

So piety and respect aside, you’re unlikely to do any longlasting harm simply by crossing your legs while sitting. The problem is really caused by sitting in the first place. Don’t make yourself comfortable – get up and get moving.

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