Danger: Do Not Cross! (your legs)

Comments (227)

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.

 

Amanda Tripp

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.

227
Leave a Reply

 
227 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
2 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
211 Comment authors
Amanda

Hi Emily.

It’s very much a socially learned behaviour – and a result of sitting in chairs.
With regard to sitting cross-legged on the floor: Absolutely do switch up which leg is the top leg (as you would with any yoga pose) so that you are correcting any imbalance (imagine if you only ever did pigeon pose with the right leg in front!?)

Emily Tsay

Interesting! This makes me wonder why we cross our legs in the first place. After reading about the imbalances it causes, it makes me wonder if this is more of a socially learned behavior rather than a natural behavior. Since I usually sit with both legs crossed (Indian style), I wonder how it might affect the body as well, if the same leg is always on top?

frank

Great article!
I was recently informed by Tyr Throne that sitting crossed leg may prematurely ages you as you naturally slump and the wight of your body is distributed primarily on one sit bone, it puts a torsional stress on your sacrum
It’s think it’s best t o sit on the edge of the chair in a wide leg stance

dilshad keshwani

Thanks Amanda for a great analysis of one of our day to day habits and how it impacts our QL and I found the comment of Ko on this article very informative. The relationship of QL and the Soas to the hips is so crucial to the entire body, not just the back ache, since all muscles are ultimately connected with each other. And as Yoga profoundly brings us home to the fact that yoga is union of the body mind and spirit, any action that we do repeatedly wrong, in a body part or parts, gives us the negative… Read more »

t'ai jamar

Excellent! I became aware of my leg-crossing years ago…but not without his same awareness/information. I like the feeling of my both feet planted firmly on the ground, mostly because I spin/go so fast that when I sit, I need to be super conscious and orient myself to the Earth 🙂 it also helps with posture to align the ankles/knees and use the flexion of the hips to draw the femur into the hip socket and energizing the legs so thatI can use the floor to support my core/ I can feel the muscle engaging in the front and back body.… Read more »

Tom

Oh my, I am a chronic “leg crosser.” And, I have lower back pain. OK, I will give it a try – nothing to loose except lower back pain.

Kyoko Jasper

I have stopped crossing the legs when I got pregnant 18 years ago. And I try to talk people out of doing it constantly. It seems like it’s a hard habit to break for most people nor had I enough explanation for them. Now I can back it up with the QL theory, Thank you Amanda!

Kristen L

As a chronic leg crosser, this article provides compelling information to stop that habit. Although it has not resulted in back pain for me, I have noticed that my right hip is higher than my left which suggests tightness in the QL on that side.

Pat Donaher

Karla points something critical out- it’s remarkable the way societal expectations play into postural patterns and its accompanying pains. At a certain point I stopped carrying my wallet in my back pocket long before I knew about yoga, because I felt the soreness that came with sitting that way for hours. Uncrossed legs- another yoga rebellion!

Cassie Cherney

I know, I know it’s bad for me the same way that cracking my neck is, but I am so addicted. I think that bringing my consciousness to this will really help me be a better lady anyway. I get all types of twisted pretzelly when I sit and now that I’ve stopped (okay, not stopped all the way, but definitely cut back) I can feel the imbalance in my lower back. I will look up this Boomerang that you speak of…thanks.

Amanda

Hi TYD.
There IS hope! In addition to the Yoga Tune Up poses mentioned in the blog post, also make a regular practice of Leg Stretch #3. If you’re not already acquainted with this dreamy pose, cut and paste this web address into your browser to learn how it’s done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b36CoZk8_eE

All the best,

Amanda

TYD

It took me years – but I just discovered the same thing. Years of being diagnosed with painful QL pain on right side only. I see now that it was very habitual – I keep having to stop myself from crossing my right leg over my left. Anything else feels awkward. Well, not that I am convinced that I found the major culprit I am hopeful for the first time that this “chronic” pain can be vanquished! Finding this post confirmed for me that I am not the only one 🙂

Amanda

Hi Ariel. If your right QL is in pain, then you might try practicing Boomerang or Triangle in Parallel with the right side in Extension twice and do the left side just once. Karla, I know, I know! I can practically hear my own grandmother ‘tsk-tsk’-ing me from beyond the grave. Sitting with your legs uncrossed seems like a pretty radical suggestion for those of us that have been schooled in embodying lady-ness. Some of it has to do with wardrobe choices – and I would venture to say that crossing your legs is entirely appropriate when wearing certain attire.… Read more »

Karla Huffman

What do you mean, do not cross your legs? Every women crosses her legs, we are taught that its more lady like then not. As I sit here with my great grandmother, I was reading her the article and she just shook her head. When I did the experiment with my leg crossed I noticed the difference and felt a little lower back pain. I will try to be more aware of crossing my legs but it’s going to be hard because I always want to look like a lady.

Ariel Marcoux

Wow, great tips – I am totally a leg crosser (always right over left), and it’s probably created a real imbalance. Are there perhaps exercises that I should only do on one side of my body to help even out my hips or QL muscle?

Becky G

I never would have thought that crossing your legs could contribute to low back pain. Thanks so much for the info!

Hayden Bird

Thanks for the reminder. I cross my legs a lot. I’m going to be more conscious about it.

Allison

Very interesting!

lisa Moontague

Guilty!! I have low back pain and cross my legs when I sit. I don’t have a job that I need to sit at for hours, so that helps. I will have to look up the Boomerang exercise. I haven’t heard of that one and I am ready to try anything that will help.

Laura H.

I constantly cross my legs. I don’t really favor one side though, so I don’t feel an obvious imbalance. After reading this though, I will make more of an effort not to cross them in the first place!

Jaime S

I’m unsure if I’m a chronic leg-crosser, but my back pain is definitely lopsided. I fully intend to not cross my legs while at work and try Sidewinder (it looks like fun!) and Triangle in Parallel.

Julie

I always sit at my chair with one shin underneath my bottom. I thought this was helping to tilt my pelvis and make me sit up straighter. Likely–it’s just messing up my hips and causing back pain.

Amanda

Christine: I tried the kitchen sink stretch while brewing my morning coffee. Fantastic! Thank you!!

bo

It is amazing how tiny unconscious habits can add up to big chronic pain. Its even better that there are tools out there for people to get themselves out of pain if they want to. Step one, stop the bad habit, step two do some Yoga Tune Up!

Alexandra

This is so interesting and something I’ve never thought about. I used to sit at a computer all day and I always crossed my right leg over the left. I would feel discomfort in my lower back and that area felt fatigued, so I requested a better chair and would sometimes put a heating pad in that area while I sat all day. Now that I don’t work at a desk I don’t have low back pain anymore and this makes sense because I’m no longer overusing my QL. If only I had known that the constant contraction in my… Read more »

Amber

Interesting. I broke my foot a few years ago and was in a walking cast for weeks…i experienced tremendous low back pain and now I know why…I couldnt find a shoe that was the exact height as the walking cast therefore causing an imbalance of my QL because the side with the cast was hiked up higher

Jamie

I am also a hibitual right-over-left leg crosser. I love the idea about putting a post it note at my desk! Now, while sitting tall in my chair, I just have to be conscious not to anteriorly tilt my pelvis too far.

Christine

Being a habitual right-over-left leg crosser, I now have an additional piece to the “why is my right QL always tight?” puzzle. Another great stretch is what I call the kitchen sink stretch: stand with your left side to the kitchen sink in the morning while waiting for your coffee or tea to brew. Anchor the left hand on the lip of the sink, in line with the left hip. Flex the right shoulder, elevating the right arm, but keep the right shoulder depressed, and without flexing at the hip or collapsing forward, reach the right arm left, laterally flexing… Read more »

Amanda

Continue to practice and transform unconscious and undesirable habits that cause suffering (whether postural, mental or behavioural) with new patterns that reflect and express growing self-awareness!

Amanda

Hi Lauren

Re: sidewinder confusion

I understand your confusion because, yes, the QL does contract in sidewinder – but that’s only half the story. In sidewinder, the QL on one side of the spine contracts while the QL on the other side lengthens. The incredible wellspring of RELIEF is found in the lengthening portion of this dynamic stretch.
Hope that helps!

Amanda

Hi JT

Re: arching your back in Sidwinder.

Keep reminding yourself to tilt your pelvis posteriorly as you practice! That should take the arch out of your back.

Taina

I have been trying to stop crossing my legs for several years. I have to remind myself at least once a day to let go and sit properly. When I’m not being mindful about it, my body reminds me of it with pain later!

Jill D

I remember being taught as a kid to “sit like a lady” which pretty much meant sit with your legs crossed. I will have to remind my mother she was wrong about that one! I think the post-it note or timer is a great idea, often hours can go by without changing positions when working or watching a movie and a nice friendly reminder to create some movement would be helpful.

Susan McGurn

I just learned of this today! I never knew crossing your legs could cause lower back pain. I will definitely be more aware and eliminate leg crossing from now on. I am glad I had the experience of sidewinder today.

JT

When I do the Sidewinder, I tend to feel my lower back lifting higher and higher from the floor, which makes me feel like I’m arching my back. Any advice as to how to prevent this?

Thanks!

Sharon

I had no idea that such a small thing could affect your body so much!

Ko

In answer to Lauren’s question it’s not only a matter of contracting the quadratus lumborium, It is a matter of frequency. Workouts will help strengthen the muscle when stressed periodically, but no muscle was meant to be constantly flexed or extended for long periods of time in an isometric manner. The single exception is of course the heart muscle, The QL originates at the iliac crest and the iliolumbar ligament and inserts into the transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae (L1~L5) and inferior aspect of the 12th rib. As you mention Lauren the result of the QL contracting will bring… Read more »

Lauren Iden

I’m a little confused about something: Crossing the legs shortens the QL, which makes sense considering that the hip is elevated. But doesn’t doing the sidewinder pose that’s recommended shorted the QL too as it’s contracting?

Juliana Salas

Ahh childs pose!

CSK

Great advice. I am a leg-crosser. I do it unconsciously. I need to test this to see if this is the cause of my lower back pain!

Maura Barclay

Another perfect example of chronic unconscious habits that contribute to adaptive shortening which leads to imbalance and pain. Using imagery to help people see their hip bones elevating/depressing as a result of their leg bones over adducting is a great way to help people key into the physical realities of postural habits.

Kelli

Never even realized how unbalanced this was making me. Simply uncrossing my legs and planting both feet on the floor makes my pelvis feel even.

Shilpa

I had no idea that leg crossing was such a bad habit! Its crazy that something you might think of as a trivial habit could be so harmful to your body. I will have to watch myself now…

Greta C

Wow I sit at a desk for a long period and always adduct my left leg when sitting! Now I know the cause of my back pain!

Joe Matson

I have lower back pain. I tried crossing my legs to see how it affected my OL on each side. Do I cross my legs when I’m at the computer? Hmm?? I may do it unconciously. I put on a note on my laptop to check for crossed legs. This may be the culprit.
I need to pay more attention to my habits.

Gillea

Totally agree– I had always heard that it can create imbalance but this explanation really hit home with me. It’s amazing how our habits can affect our skeleton and create pain. Uncrossing the legs is also a good component of standing with our heart open and anatomically correct as we discussed in our YTU training today — not only is it great for our body, but our mind and heart will be much better for it as well.

Liz

Wow. I had heard about leg-crossing causing vericose veins, but I had no idea it was the culprit of back pain too!

Sabena

I’ll think twice before crossing my legs again!

scott

this is so true.

Amy

No more leg-crossing for me! Thanks for the tip.

1 2 3 5