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Is cross-legged sitting bad for you?

January 01, 2018 08:45 IST

Sitting cross-legged for several hours can lead to prolonged compression of the peroneal nerve which could lead to numbness or weakness in the foot, says Dr Miten Sheth.

Kareena Kapoor in Talaash 

IMAGE: Kareena Kapoor strikes a seductive pose in Talaash, with her legs crossed.

As orthopaedic surgeons, we are constantly evaluating patients' tics and antics.

There are two types of patients. The anxious, accommodative type sitting in an unassuming manner and the affluent, maverick type sitting with one leg crossed over the other (nonchalant about the fact that people on either side are getting squashed).

You can picture this in the first class compartment of a Mumbai local as well.


People cross their legs, whether it's conscious or unconscious, for comfort, to stop their legs from splaying, to take pressure off a foot or for no reason at all!

The big question is whether sitting crossed-legged is good or bad.

Although it feels like a natural sitting position, you may have heard that sitting with your legs crossed leads to varicose veins, raises your blood pressure and wrecks your posture.

Jacqueline Fernandez and Varun Dhawan promote Judwaa 2

IMAGE: Jaqueline Fernandes, her legs crossed, is all attention at the Judwaa 2 press conference. Photograph: Pradeep Bandekar

Dispelling a few myths, sitting cross-legged has no significant cause or effect (long-term) on blood pressure and varicose veins.

As far as your joints and posture are concerned, there are a few observations worth sharing.

Crossing your legs at the knee can stretch the piriformis muscle (the small muscle in the buttock region, behind the hip joint) which, in turn, can increase the stability of the pelvis.

There is some evidence that crossing your legs could reduce strain on abdominal muscles and indirectly improve pelvic stability.

 Lipstick Under My Burkha actress Aahana Kumra holidays in Australia.

IMAGE: Lipstick Under My Burkhaactress Aahana Kumra crosses her legs during a fun boat ride in Australia. Photograph: Kind courtesy Aahana Kumra/Instagram

There are few negatives as well.

Crossing your legs leaves the body a little lopsided, so it is almost impossible to sit up perfectly straight (you lean to one side).

People who sit cross-legged for long hours have poor spinal posture for most of the day. This could give rise to chronic lower back pain that may even extend to the neck and shoulder blades.

Sitting cross-legged for several hours can lead to prolonged compression of the peroneal nerve (runs along the outer part of the knee).

This can sometimes lead to numbness or weakness in the foot. We call it peroneal nerve palsy or a 'foot drop'.

Thankfully, it is neither dangerous nor a sign of impending paralysis and generally reverses in a few seconds to minutes.

Priyanka meets Modi in Berlin

IMAGE: Priyanka Chopra crosses her legs during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra D Modi in Berlin. Photograph: Kind courtesy Priyanka Chopra/Instagram

In reality, long-term numbness is an unlikely consequence because we tend to move as soon as we feel uncomfortable.

Cross-legged sitting has and will always be part and parcel of everyday ergonomics.

In an ideal world, we must sit erect on a firm chair with feet flat on the floor, knees directly over the feet and hips no lower than the knees.

But then, an ideal world would be full of affluent nonchalant mavericks, wouldn’t it?

Dr Miten Sheth is a consultant orthopedic surgeon at The Knee Clinic, Mumbai.

Dr Miten Sheth