Sitting with Your Legs Crossed: Why It's Perfectly Safe, Plus Stretches to Reduce Discomfort

Learn the truth behind myths about sitting cross-legged, plus ways to manage pain from sitting, including at-home exercises from physical therapists.

Published Date: Feb 20, 2023

Our Hinge Health Experts

Lori Walter, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Walter is a Hinge Health physical therapist with over 20 years of experience working with orthopedic injuries, pelvic health, and sports medicine.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with subspecialty training in hip and knee replacement, as well as advanced clinical expertise in spine care. Dr. Lee oversees the Expert Medical Opinion program at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing our exercise therapy programs and member education.

Confused about how you should sit? You’re not alone. Many people spend hours each day in a chair, but there’s a lot of conflicting information about the “right” way to sit. People sit in all kinds of positions for all kinds of reasons. Maybe you were taught growing up that crossing your legs was the polite way to sit, or you find it’s more comfortable. Perhaps you were told that sitting cross-legged would give you varicose veins or worsen knee problems.

Let’s get this out of the way: There is no “right” or “wrong” way to sit. Sitting cross-legged isn’t bad for you, or worse than any other sitting position. Here, we’ll debunk some myths about sitting with your legs crossed and provide tips on how to prevent pain while sitting, especially with exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists. 

Myths About Sitting with Your Legs Crossed   

Whether you like to sit “criss-cross applesauce” (on the ground with your ankles under your knees), cross your legs at the knees or ankles, or sit with your feet flat on the ground, it doesn’t matter. Our physical therapists routinely tell patients: All sitting styles are perfectly fine

If you train your muscles to sit in a variety of positions, sitting cross-legged is unlikely to be harmful. But many myths persist about crossing your legs while sitting. Allow us to debunk a few of them:

1. Myth: Crossing your legs will cause varicose veins

False. There’s no direct connection between how a person sits and their likelihood of developing varicose veins. Varicose veins, sometimes called spider veins, are veins that bulge out, usually in the thighs and calves. They form when blood that normally circulates from the limbs to the heart gets backed up and pools in the veins. 

Anyone can get varicose veins, and they appear to be influenced by genetics or other factors — not sitting habits. “There’s no evidence that crossing your legs is any more likely to cause varicose veins than any other position,” says Lori Walter, PT, DPT,  a physical therapist at Hinge Health. You can still have good blood flow in a cross-legged position without putting yourself at risk, she adds, so there’s no need to let the fear of spider veins dictate how you sit.    

2. Myth: Crossing your legs gives you high blood pressure 

Not exactly. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that crossing your legs at the knee level can temporarily increase your blood pressure while they’re crossed, which is why the nurse always tells you to uncross your legs before they take your blood pressure at the doctor’s office. But blood pressure goes back to normal once you uncross your legs. This does not cause hypertension or chronic high blood pressure. 

In the study, people who were already being treated for hypertension had the greatest rise in blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, you might want to mix up your sitting position. “The key with hypertension is movement. You want blood to move through your system,” says Dr. Walter. Movement — specifically aerobic exercise — is shown to be one of the most effective means to reduce blood pressure, according to research published in JAMA. But if you can’t get up and move around, move your ankles up and down while sitting to increase blood flow, suggests Dr. Walter. This can make a big difference, too.  

3. Myth: Sitting cross-legged is bad for your posture 

There’s actually no such thing as perfect posture, so sitting cross-legged can’t “give you bad posture.” Any sitting position or posture, cross-legged included, can cause pain at times. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sit like that, or that you can’t improve your body’s ability to handle that position,” says Dr. Walter

Sitting cross-legged is not going to cause any long-term harm, even if you have pain. But if you do have pain sitting cross-legged, you might need to change how you sit for a while. So if you notice that you lean to the side when you sit cross-legged or get sore when you sit for long periods, you don’t have to avoid crossing your legs altogether. You just need to be mindful of movement breaks.

4. Myth: Sitting cross-legged is bad for your knees 

If your knees hurt when you cross your legs, it’s more likely a signal that your body needs a movement break or your hips could use some stretching, but your sitting position is not the cause of knee pain. “It’s important to have good hip mobility to sit cross-legged,” says Dr. Walter. “It’s not that it's a ‘bad’ position for the knee. It’s just that you need mobile hips to get the knee in the most comfortable position.” This is where stretching and exercise therapy comes in handy. (More information on this below).

So, Sitting Cross-Legged Isn’t Bad for Me?

One of the most important messages Hinge Health physical therapists routinely deliver to members is this: There is no such thing as perfect posture, and there is no one way of sitting, standing, walking, running, or sleeping that’s right for everyone. Rather, your “best” position is your next position. 

In other words, it’s important to keep moving and avoid staying in one position for too long. Any downsides that come with sitting in a cross-legged position, such as muscle tension, come with sitting in any position for too long. 

The Benefits of Sitting with Crossed Legs

Having mobility in your hips, pelvis, and knees is important, not just for sitting cross-legged but for everyday activities like squatting and getting down on the floor, says Dr. Walter. Crossing your legs may actually help train your body to do other everyday activities. “It can be good for pelvic floor and low back function because it encourages moving through a range of motion you might not otherwise get,” says Dr. Walter.  

If you have immediate pain when going into a cross-legged position, start by doing stretches to improve your mobility. “I wouldn’t just push through it at a significant intensity because that’s your body saying, ‘Hey, I might need a little practice before going into this position,’” says Dr. Walter. 

Stretches and Exercises for Comfortable Sitting 

The best ways to prevent and manage pain from sitting — in any position — is to stretch, do exercise therapy, and change positions frequently. This will help prevent achy, stiff joints and alleviate any muscle tension that builds from staying in the same position for too long. Here are a few gentle exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists that are commonly used to prevent and treat sitting-related pain. These can be done anytime, anywhere. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

This stretch works the muscles that allow you to extend your hips and flex your knees, helping keep the muscles loose and flexible to prevent pain related to sitting.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

This stretch works the muscles that allow you to extend your hips and flex your knees, helping keep the muscles loose and flexible to prevent pain related to sitting.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

This stretch works the muscles that allow you to extend your hips and flex your knees, helping keep the muscles loose and flexible to prevent pain related to sitting.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

This stretch works the muscles that allow you to extend your hips and flex your knees, helping keep the muscles loose and flexible to prevent pain related to sitting.

Glute Stretch

This simple stretch is slightly more challenging, and it also helps relieve tightness, tension, and discomfort, particularly in the low back pain and hips. You can hold this stretch discreetly when you’re in a meeting, talking to someone, or watching TV.

Glute Stretch

This simple stretch is slightly more challenging, and it also helps relieve tightness, tension, and discomfort, particularly in the low back pain and hips. You can hold this stretch discreetly when you’re in a meeting, talking to someone, or watching TV.

Glute Stretch

This simple stretch is slightly more challenging, and it also helps relieve tightness, tension, and discomfort, particularly in the low back pain and hips. You can hold this stretch discreetly when you’re in a meeting, talking to someone, or watching TV.

Glute Stretch

This simple stretch is slightly more challenging, and it also helps relieve tightness, tension, and discomfort, particularly in the low back pain and hips. You can hold this stretch discreetly when you’re in a meeting, talking to someone, or watching TV.

Pigeon Pose

This stretch works the muscles that connect the spine to the upper thigh bone (femur) and help you rotate your hips. It can help build the flexibility and mobility needed to sit comfortably in a variety of positions.

Pigeon Pose

This stretch works the muscles that connect the spine to the upper thigh bone (femur) and help you rotate your hips. It can help build the flexibility and mobility needed to sit comfortably in a variety of positions.

Pigeon Pose

This stretch works the muscles that connect the spine to the upper thigh bone (femur) and help you rotate your hips. It can help build the flexibility and mobility needed to sit comfortably in a variety of positions.

Pigeon Pose

This stretch works the muscles that connect the spine to the upper thigh bone (femur) and help you rotate your hips. It can help build the flexibility and mobility needed to sit comfortably in a variety of positions.

How to Make Your Sitting Position Work for You 

If sitting cross-legged is very uncomfortable for you, there’s a really good chance you can train your body to become comfortable in that position. “Most people architecturally can sit cross-legged,” says Dr. Walter. For most, it’s just a matter of working on their flexibility and joint mobility. In addition to doing regular stretching and exercise therapy, and taking frequent movement breaks, try these tips to train your body to be comfortable in a variety of positions: 

  • Alternate which leg is on top when you cross your legs. This increases blood flow in the legs and prevents your muscles from cramping up.   

  • Adjust where your legs cross. Alternate between crossing your legs at the knees, ankles, and placing an ankle on top of the opposite knee (like a figure 4 stretch) when sitting in a chair.

  • Scoot your ankles away from your body. If you enjoy yoga, have a toddler, or have any other reason to sit on the ground, your legs may cramp up the longer you sit. If you’re sitting criss-cross applesauce, move your ankles away from your body intermittently to reduce tension and increase blood flow in your legs. Alternatively, try holding a butterfly stretch (knees pointed out with your feet touching in front of your body) or stretch your legs out and cross them at your ankles instead, suggests Dr. Walter. 

  • Breathe! Deep breathing techniques can help your body relax as you nudge into the discomfort of new positions. You can also incorporate visualization techniques to help settle into a comfortable, relaxed position. Learn more here about diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, techniques.

  • Do ankle pumps. While getting up and moving is great, it’s not always feasible. If you’re stuck in traffic, on a plane, or in a long meeting, move your ankles up and down to increase blood flow and work the stiffness out of your joints until you have a chance to stand up or walk. 

  • Practice pelvic tilts. Rock your pelvis forward and backward while you sit to increase blood flow and prevent pain from setting in. 

  • Prop your hips up. Sit on a pillow or towel so your hips sit higher than your knees to help decrease strain on your muscles. “Anything that’s more supported can be more relaxed,” says Dr. Walter. 

PT Tip: Don’t Underestimate Mini Movements 

“When you think of ‘movement breaks,’ you probably think of walking around or stretching next to your desk,” says Dr. Walter. And while that’s incredibly helpful in preventing and managing pain, as well as increasing joint mobility, don’t underestimate the power of mini movements. Doing ankle pumps when you’re stuck in traffic, lifting your hips up in your chair during a meeting, and an occasional pelvic tilt exercise can be incredibly helpful, advises Dr. Walter.  

Learn More About Hinge Health for Pain Relief

We’ve got a full team of clinical experts to help you move past your pain. Click here to see if you’re eligible to join our free digital clinic for back and joint pain.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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Resources

  1. Krysa, J., Jones, G. T., & Van Rij, A. M. (2012). Evidence for a genetic role in varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency. Phlebology: The Journal of Venous Disease, 27(7), 329–335. doi:10.1258/phleb.2011.011030

  2. Pinar, R., Ataalkin, S., & Watson, R. (2010). The effect of crossing legs on blood pressure in hypertensive patients. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 19(9-10), 1284–1288. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2009.03148.x

  3. Lopes, S., Mesquita-Bastos, J., Garcia, C., Bertoquini, S., Ribau, V., Teixeira, M., Ribeiro, I. P., Melo, J. B., Oliveira, J., Figueiredo, D., Guimarães, G. V., Pescatello, L. S., Polonia, J., Alves, A. J., & Ribeiro, F. (2021). Effect of Exercise Training on Ambulatory Blood Pressure Among Patients With Resistant Hypertension. JAMA Cardiology, 6(11), 1317. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2021.2735

  4. If you can't sit cross legged even for a minute, here is what your body is telling you. (2021, April 17). Times of India. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health-news/if-you-cant-sit-cross-legged-even-for-a-minute-here-is-what-your-body-is-telling-you/articleshow/82114495.cms 

  5. Mackenzie, M. (2016, February 23). What Sitting with Your Legs Crossed Will—and Won't—Do to Your Body: Does it actually give you varicose veins? Women’s Health.