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 for lower back pain.
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 QL stretches and Yoga Tune Up At Home 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 with Tune Up Fitness 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.
I stopped crossing my legs years ago because I realized how imbalanced it felt, even if I uncrossed and recrossed the other leg for the same amount of time. Crazy how societal norms can cause us to unconsciously do things to our bodies, especially harmful imbalances contorting the body for the sake of ‘etiquette’.
I was searching for my next blog post to read with my legs crossed when I noticed your title! Great reminder, thank you. I do suffer from lower back pain and I am only 36 years old! I will give the YTU poses a try to restore and send some love to my poor QL! I will also add a sticky note to my laptop 😉
Thanks for shearing, something that I’m always keeping in mind
Isnt Pain a wonderful teacher? Who knew leg crossing was not only the culprit of broken veins but lower back pain too! Thanks for being a great teacher, healer and inspiration Amanda. I enjoy the YTU – Sidewinder, Triangle and Boomerang, so cheers to reducing back pain in our future.
What a great article. Thank you for this, it is concise, informative and most of all, helpful.
This should be taught in schools!
Thank you for this. It is very hard to uncross my legs, habitually…and I’ve to consciously remind myself not to! And the stuff i’ve done to my QL, pelvis and rotators!
Thank you Amanda for sharing this piece of information! I have the habit of crossing my leg which seems more of an automated action from the body before I am even aware of it. So i will take your tip and will paste a sticky note on my computer to unwind the cross.
Thank you for this. This may be part of my issues with my back pain as I already have scoliosis so I need to do whatever I can to avoid more back imbalances. We went over this in class today and Dineen references your article! I am already starting to cultivate more wholesome habits for my back. Thank you!
Isn’t it funny how the most seemingly innocuous thing could have reasonably serious implications. Thank you for this piece.
Thank you for sharing. As a massage therapist I always as my clients how they sit. When I talk about legs being crossed they understand they shouldn’t do it but almost always during a treatment I have to remind them to uncross the feet or legs. I usually joke with them and one day they are just going hear my voice in their head.
Leg crossing causes so many pain spots! I’ve found switching to crossing at the ankle (feet on the ground) is an easier way to break the full leg cross habit, rather than trying to sit with legs apart.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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!
Ok I am convinced!!! Shall now have my QL’s and lower back in mind each time I think of crossing my legs!
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!
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… Read more »
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.”
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. 🙂
I’m such a leg crosser and have suffered from the same nasty QL issues and hip elevation.
Here’s to uncrossing!
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.
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.