Crossing your legs is bad for you

Sitting with your legs crossed is bad for you, but you can take steps to reduce the damage

Don't cross those legs

Although many of us find crossing our legs is the comfiest way to sit at our desk, whilst at a dinner table or when watching TV, the physical action of sitting with one leg over your other knee can cause parts of your body to gradually adapt to this awkward positioning, which in turn can have negative long-term effects.

But is sitting with your legs crossed really that bad for you? And how can you ‘reset’ your body so that you can be more comfortable and offset the long term health implications? Read on for some top tips from Neo G‘s resident physiotherapist, Alex Clark…

So, what does sitting with your legs crossed do to your body?
The main issue is that crossing your legs makes it almost impossible to sit perfectly straight. In turn your body will become used to this lopsided position, and your pelvis may slowly rotate over time and become tilted.

In the long-term, a tilted pelvis caused by leg-crossing can result in extreme lower back pain and discomfort, while continuing to sit in this way may result in more severe misalignment of the spine. Sufferers are often known to experience chronic pain particularly in the lumbar of the spine but this can move all the way up to your neck.

Improper posture can cause your muscles to work overtime to compensate for the posture changes, resulting in more pain and stiffness. This, combined with leaning to the side, can result in an extremely slouched posture and pain as your muscles become compressed within your shoulder blades. A slouched posture will usually result in rounded shoulders which then impacts your range of movement in the shoulder, leading to decreased movement which can impact everyday tasks.

How should you actually be sitting?
Sitting with the right posture is so important, especially considering that more of us than ever are living sedentary lifestyles and spending large portions of the day at a desk. The best thing you can do to improve your health is to review how you’re sitting at your desk. Set up your keyboard to be directly in front of you when you are typing and leave a gap of around 4-6 inches between it and the front of your desk. If there is not enough space between the desk edge and your keyboard then extra pressure can be put on joints and back muscles, which can lead to problems over time.

When it comes to your seated position, try not to slouch as this will increase tension in your muscles and lead to pain if unchecked. To find the best position for you, sit up straight by imagining a piece of string pulling you up from the top of your head, pulling your stomach in, and drawing the shoulders back at the same time. Ensure your back is against the chair and your hips are in the bend of the chair with your feet flat on the floor. Getting into the habit of sitting this way might feel strange at first but it will help prevent problems in the long run.

How can you stop yourself slipping back into bad seating habits?
If you find yourself falling back into your old habits when it comes to crossing your legs and slouching, then ‘resetting’ your posture with some simple stretches and exercises can help. Adding the below routine into your daily work routine could help ease tension and prevent pain from occurring.

Back
Back problems are one of the most common complaints when it comes to working at a desk. Prevent problems occurring with this simple exercise. Inhale and then exhale, turning to the left and using the back of your chair to help you twist your torso around as far to the back of the room as you can. Hold for a few seconds before slowly coming back to face in front of you. Repeat on the other side. 

Shoulders
If you’ve got tight shoulders shrug them up and down a few times to relieve build up tension. Gently lift your shoulders and let them fall slowly. You should feel tension being released as your shoulders drop. Repeat 5-10 times.

Wrists
Repetitive movements such as picking up the phone or reaching for your mouse can cause wrist problems if left unchecked. Stretch out the wrist area to prevent problems from developing. Lean against a wall with your arms straight and palms touching the wall. Rotate the hands inwards as far as possible, hold for ten seconds. Then turn them upwards, without lifting them from the wall. Hold for another ten seconds. Finally rotate your hands outwards as far as possible.

Legs
Give your legs a mini workout and stretch them out if you don’t have time to leave your desk. Sit on the edge of your chair with your arms by your sides. Extend one leg out straight and flex your foot until it’s parallel with your hips. Slowly lower your leg before repeating on the other side. Repeat three times for five seconds on each side.    

Neck
Sitting at a desk can encourage us to push our neck out and strain forward, all of which puts pressure on our neck muscles. Try the follow exercise to relieve pressure. Keeping your head upright, gently turn your head from side to side, trying to move it past your shoulder. You should feel the muscles on the outside of your neck gradually stretching. Repeat three times.

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