If you cross your legs, you are keeping them tidy and not taking up too much room. The other extreme is if you are male, you may be caught “man spreading.” This is where you spread your legs and take up about 3 seats on public transport.
But is crossing your legs actually bad for you? It depends on a lot of factors, the main ones being how long and how often you actually do it. This is what the research has found.
1. It may temporarily raise your blood pressure
Various small scale studies have been done on this. Most studies confirm that this habit does put up your blood pressure, but only temporarily. Crossing your legs is not going to cause high blood pressure. According to one study, crossing your legs can increase systolic BP by 7% and diastolic by 2%. The researchers noticed that crossing the ankles made no difference whatsoever in the BP readings.
2. It may cause back and neck pain
According to one physical therapist, Vivian Eisenstadt, you are liable to have increased back and neck pain if you cross your legs frequently. She maintains that the hips are slightly twisted when in this position and can cause imbalances in the pelvis. This will put pressure on the spine and that is likely to lead to back pain and even neck pain later on.
“Days and weeks of doing this (leg crossing) are one of the main reasons we have back and neck pain, as well as herniated discs.” – Dr. Vivian Eisenstadt
3. It may be linked to spider and varicose veins
Almost half the US population have spider veins (55% of women and 45% of men) according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Is there a link between these veins and keeping your legs crossed? Some experts believe that genetics, sun exposure and long periods of standing are mainly to blame. However, others believe crossing legs can be a factor. Dr. Hooman Madyoon, a cardiologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center explains how this happens:
“Crossing your legs increases the pressure on your veins that are responsible for returning blood back to your heart. The pressure of one leg on top of the other impedes your blood flow, which can weaken or damage the veins in your legs. If the veins are damaged or weakened, the blood can leak into them and collect there, causing spider veins or exacerbating existing ones.” – Dr. Madyoon
4. It can cause nerve damage
As we know, the sciatic nerve is the largest in the human body and stretches form the lower back right down to our feet. One branch of the sciatic nerve is the peroneal nerve. Any pressure on this such as leg crossing can cause numbness and tingling and over time may actually damage the nerve. This damage can result in long-term numbness and foot drop, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How to break this habit
Here are some suggestions for you to follow if you find that you are keeping legs crossed for too long and too often. Try to avoid it for longer than ten or fifteen minutes. Every half hour, you should get up and walk around, if working conditions allow for that. Try to get a decent chair which gives you adequate support for your lower back and also make a conscious effort to keep both feet on the floor, with knees and hips as close to ninety degrees as possible.
“The best advice is always not to sit with your legs crossed.”- Dr. Richard Graves, podiatrist
Last, but not least, your leg crossing is sending the wrong message when you are in meetings and networking. If you cross your legs tightly, it presents a rather unwelcoming and closed view of yourself as if you are trying to build a mini fortress around yourself. Body language is often sending more information than what we are actually saying.