So often I get asked if crossing your legs while working is ‘bad’ or can cause your body harm. For this answer, you need to check out the rest of this post! In many cases, crossing your legs can be an indication that something is a little ‘off’ in the ergonomics of your office set-up and you are working this way to compensate for it. It could be that your chair is just a little too high for you and you cross your legs to reach the floor. Or you may sit like this just because its a habit and old habits can be really difficult to change. Ensuring that your desk is set-up in an ergonomic manner is one way to reduce the likelihood of you wanting to cross your legs. Check out the rest of this post for insights of the ergonomic risks associated with crossing your legs as well as what you can do to reduce the risk!
Why You Should Limit Crossing Your Legs
1. Lower Leg Circulation Is Impeded
Crossing your legs is considered to be an awkward leg posture, with more symptoms accumulating the longer that the position is held for. It can contribute to injury, swelling, and pain in the lower extremities and even in the back and shoulders (more on this in the next section). Research supports that there is a risk to lower leg blood circulation as a result of crossing your legs. Without question, optimal circulation is an essential part of health. Our circulatory system ensures that oxygen rich blood reaches our tissues (via arteries) and removes oxygen-depleted blood with other waste products too (via veins). This research shows that there is much more musculoskeletal discomfort symptoms in a person’s thighs, knees and legs among those who crossed their legs throughout their workday compared to those who sat in a neutral posture. And these researchers found that crossing your legs increases the blood pressure in the lower leg veins due to the fact that the knee is flexed to such a tight angle. Note: A neutral posture is when the knees are bent between 90 and 120 degrees with the feet in secure contact with the floor. Leg crossing leads to poorer circulation and increases the risk of lower leg swelling (aka blood pooling), varicose veins, and even nerve issues – have you ever felt ‘pins and needles’ in your legs after a particularly long bout of sitting crossed legged? It’s something to think about.
2. Awkward Postures In The Legs And Beyond
As I mentioned in the first point, crossing your legs is considered to be an awkward ergonomic posture. And, awkward ergonomic postures can lead to discomfort and injury overtime. But what happens if I said that crossing your legs can actually increase the ergonomic risk to your upper extremities too? There is a lot of evidence to support this claim. Firstly, this research does not recommend crossing your legs during long-term computer work because crossing your legs has reactive poor postures in the back (increased back flexion) and increased pressure in the buttocks. For reference, the most-up-to-date sitting research recommends that the back should be slightly reclined (between 95 and 115 degrees flexed) to limit long-term wear and tear on the spine. Crossing your legs tends to reduce this preventative back position. For many musculoskeletal injury risks, its the duration spent in the posture that tends to compound the problem. On this note, these researchers found that sitting with the legs crossed for longer than 3 hours per day can increase ergonomic risk factors for some counter-intuitive body areas – including the shoulders (via raised shoulder postures), pelvis (via lateral pelvic tilt) and neck (via forward head positions). If that research doesn’t convince you, this research found that 80-90% of low back pain is a result of habitual asymmetric sitting postures – specifically crossing your legs. There are certainly some complications related to long-term leg-crossing behaviours. These researchers noted that specifically sitting with crossed legs can lead to spinal imbalances and maybe even risk of spine disease because of unequal use of supportive abdominal muscles. What do all of these points suggest? That a simple, cost-effective way to reduce long-term harm to your spine (in addition to other areas of the body) is to eliminate crossed leg postures for extended periods of time. Disclaimer: Just because you cross your legs at work doesn’t necessarily mean that these negative health outcomes are imminent, rather negative health outcomes are based on personal characteristics and behaviours.
3. What You Can Do To Reduce The Risk
Since this is an ergonomics blog, I wouldn’t be doing my job without stating what can be done to improve sitting postures to reduce the tendency for people to want to cross their legs. As always, using the right ergonomics set-up is paramount in this situation. If something in the workstation isn’t quite optimal for the user, I have noticed that there tends to be a tendency for people to cross their legs. Specifically I have noticed that a chair height that is much too high or a poorly adjusted chair in general tends to correlate with leg-crossing behaviours. While a good solid ergonomic set-up is part of the solution, the user’s habits and behaviours should probably be where any sort of ergonomic intervention is focussed on. Simply remembering to sit with an optimal position may prove to be a lot more difficult for some people to do, especially if they have been crossing their legs for years without any negative health outcomes associated with it. For those people, I suggest focusing on a foundation of a good workstation set-up and perhaps suggesting a graduated schedule for them to slowly ease into the transition of sitting without crossing their legs. It will likely take some time and have some opposition, but if that person is really interested in improving their overall health as well limiting the negative health consequences that I mentioned above, it would be well worth it.