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Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs)

A Cautionary Tale Told by a Reformed Chronic Leg-Crosser

Low Back Pain can reduce even the toughest of tough guys to tears.

For years I suffered (and, yes, I even cried) due to recurring bouts of debilitating low back pain that I could not figure out the cause or cure for.  I now know that a major contributing factor was an unconscious habit of sitting with one leg crossed over the other … every day … several hours a day … year after year.  Happily, I also found my cure.

If you are a leg-crosser, sit up, uncross your legs and pay attention. The following information might provide you with the keys to liberation from chronic pain.

First, get to know your Quadratus Lumborum (or ‘QL’). Your QL inhabit the space between the bottom rib, the pelvis and the transverse processes of the first four lumbar vertebrae.  Best known as the ‘hip hiker’ muscle, its primary function is to bring the hip and rib cage closer together (as in sidebending). It should also be known as a chief culprit in cases of low back pain – and definitely held under suspicion when low back pain is one-sided.

Try this experiment:

Sit in a chair.

Cross your left leg over your right.

Notice: the left hip ‘hikes’ up, making your left side waist (and QL) shorter than the right.

If you sit for a large portion of your day – and you habitually cross your legs one way, BEWARE!  You are creating a QL imbalance for which you may suffer (or already be suffering) mightily. Fortunately, you can help yourself.

First: Stop crossing your legs.  Be vigilant about it.  In fact, put a post-it note on your computer screen that says ‘Uncross your legs’ as a reminder.

Second: do the following Yoga Tune Up poses to restore balance to your QL:  Sidewinder Pose, Boomerang at the wall and Triangle in Parallel.  Whether you are a chronic leg-crosser or not, if your QL is responsible for the pain in your back, these exercises are your therapy.   Practice and enjoy freedom from pain. I am!

Watch our video for lower back pain relief.

Learn about our Therapy Balls Program for your lower back.

About This Author

It was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp ... who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda's classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.

Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs)

  1. Ben says:

    I knew that the QL was a major part of lower back pain, but i didn’t know that hours of sitting cross legged would play a role in this. I’ve heard a lot of things about sitting one leg over the other was ‘bad for you’ this explains clearly a part of the problem. Its something for me to check out with clients who have lower back pain, thanks

  2. Shai says:

    A favourite pastime I have as an RMT is startling clients with what they think is some psychic ability I have to know what they are up too on any given day. As I dig into their QLs and feel the diagonal pull of their Thoracolumbar fascia, I ask how much time they spend in a day with their legs crossed. Then they usually and sheepishly admit to their postural transgressions.
    It still amazes me how many of us have this habit. The combination with prolonged sitting will help me pay my mortgage off in no time.
    Thanks for the insights.

  3. Sonya Brar says:

    I have a lot of tension in my QL’s but more so on one side, I didn’t understand how I was contributing to the “tension” through my own habits. I’m now I’m beginning to notice and change my posture to adjust those areas of imbalance. Looking forward to trying more of the exercises you recommend to help restore balance.

  4. Carole Giuliani says:

    Thank you Amanda for this article. It clears things up for me. I was told years ago to stop crossing my legs, that it was bad for my body, and I didn’t know why… and now I do!

  5. Sue Taylor Sue Taylor says:

    Thanks Amanda. I often catch myself crossing right leg over left and rarely the other way. Of late I’ve noticed some different feelings in my right SI joint which could be a result of habitual leg crossing whilst working at my computer. I’m a huge fan of post-it-notes so your suggestion of sticking one to my computer as a reminder to ‘uncross the legs’ may just help. I’ll keep you posted…pun intended!

  6. Steven Custodio says:

    Good to know and totally makes sense, the body adapts to a pose, muscles get’s shorter and when you get up, there’s the pinch! Great recommendation of poses to stretch the QL

  7. Jasmine Ellemo says:

    OMG I have crossed my legs for years! Time to pay attention to this. Now what about when we lead class, mediation , etc. I have to train myself to change legs and be more balanced and equal. Will most definitely train my QL with more conscious thought from now on!

  8. Ok I am convinced!!! Shall now have my QL’s and lower back in mind each time I think of crossing my legs!

  9. Katie Rutterer says:

    I’m currently trying to cure myself of chronic leg crossing!

    I had an athlete come to me the other day after trying to get his low back to release and I showed him Boomerang at the Wall and he instantly felt better. Such an awesome pose to target this often tight but forgotten muscle!

  10. Marina Flaks says:

    Thank you so much for the post Amanda. It’s amazing. I had been suffering from low back pain all my life . Most of my life I was not physically engaged and spent a lot of time sitting, and always believed that that was the reason of my back pain. Recently, I am much more physically active, my lower back is much better , although some times it reminds me of it’s existence. I would never guess that crossing legs while sitting (what I always do) could be the reason. I was always taught to sit leg crossed as a sign of good manner. And I could transfer this unhealthy habit to my daughters.

  11. Emily says:

    I cross my legs without even realizing I’m doing it. Thanks to YTU I’m becoming more conscious of my body so when my QL and low back start to get grumpy I’m noticing quicker the need for correction – come on lady, uncross your stinking legs! Thank you for this pose advice “Do the following Yoga Tune Up poses to restore balance to your QL: Sidewinder Pose, Boomerang at the wall and Triangle in Parallel.”

  12. Anastasia Polito says:

    Thanks for writing about how serious back problems can be created by avid leg crossing. Therapy and rehab are so important as well as stopping this action for our low and mid-back health. I will introduce these rehab exercises to a few of my clients. 🙂

  13. bee pallomina says:

    I’m such a leg crosser and have suffered from the same nasty QL issues and hip elevation.
    Here’s to uncrossing!

  14. KELLY says:

    I am retraining myself to sit with both feet on the floor because I know it’s not good, and your article gave me more insight into the “why”. It’s hard to imagine a room full of women sitting like this, rather than with legs crossed. I will be sure to pass this tip on to all my friends, colleagues and students who habitually leg cross.

  15. Mairin McCracken says:

    This is SO helpful! I have had horrible lower back pain that hits on and off. This week I noticed it more because I had been sitting more.. and when I sit, I cross my legs! This is a valuable piece of advice that I will pass along to my students.

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