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Crossing your legs – how bad is it really?

Posted by Dr. Tressa Fuss – chiropractor

People often ask me if crossing your legs is really bad for you.  They have been told that crossing your legs can lead to varicose veins. This is the case.  But it’s worse than just the vein damage… Your whole body is affected.

VEIN DAMAGE:

Your arteries (the blood vessels from your heart to the body) have the very powerful heart to pump your blood down the the feet. The veins (the blood vessels from the body to the heart) however use your calf muscles, which aren’t as strong, to push the blood back up.  They also have little valves inside to catch the blood as your leg muscles pump it up, to stop gravity taking it back down to the feet. The weight of one leg on the other compresses the tiny veins in your legs. Your body needs these veins open to ensure that the blood is able to be pumped back to your heart.  If they are squashed then the blood pools in your feet and calves which stretches the veins. The veins not only become more visible through the skin as they become bigger, crossing the legs makes the poor valves work way too hard and can cause irreversible damage.

SPINAL DAMAGE:

Your spine can also be injured by crossing your legs. To understand how, give this a try:

1. Sit down with the feet flat on the ground and put one hand on each hip.

2. Cross your legs with one knee over the other and feel what happens to your hips.

One hip will elevate and the other hip will lower as the pelvis twists to allow you to cross the legs. The more you sit like this, the more the body gets used to it and muscles will begin to hold you in that position even when you uncross the legs. The pelvis is a bit like the floor of your house, if it’s twisted or tilted, it’s hard to expect the walls will be straight and the roof on flat. Except in the case of your body, the walls are your spine and the roof is your head. If the pelvis is tilted the spine will curve and twist trying to keep the eyes parallel to the horizon.

The other problem is that if the floor is tilted, it usually means the foundations (your legs) are dodgy too. When the pelvic bones tilt, the muscles tighten and one leg gets pulled closer toward the body. This gives you a shorter leg on one side.  When you stand up, the body leans over that side causing even more change to the spinal curves, even up as high as the neck.

Any changes to your spinal curves causes an altered load bearing to the joints and increases your risk of wear and tear as well as pain and inflammation.

See the three pictures below.  The first is with uncrossed legs, the second is with legs crossed at the knees and the third is with one foot up on the opposite knee.  You can easily see how much the poor body has to try and compensate.  Hips are tilted, the spine is twisted and leaning off to the side, the neck is rotated and the head and shoulders are not level.  It affects the body the whole way up.  Imagine the imbalanced muscles, the uneven joint pressure, none of which is at all good!

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WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Crossing the legs at the ankles is better but anything higher than that causes damage long term.  If you do need to cross the legs for a brief period (eg. modesty reasons when wearing a short skirt) make sure it is for as little as possible, get up often and make sure you swap legs consistently so that it’s not always the same leg on top.

Do you cross your legs much? Are you suprised to learn the effects?

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