Yoga Tune Up® Blog

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. Hana says:

    I knew crossing the legs was horrible for you. Growing up I was always told to uncross my legs, however I never really tuned into what it was ACTUALLY doing to me physically. Now when sitting with my legs crossed, I am able to look down and mentally paint a vision of what my QL looks like in this cross legged position. Remembering that sidewinder, boomerang, and triangle parallel are a cross-leggeds best friend, will certainly help me while teaching- especially when thinking of context grids. People want to know why they are doing these poses, and telling them it counter stretches to a cross legged seat might keep most ladies engaged.

  2. I really appreciate this post. As a PT I often teach my patients how to sit in proper alignment, and I have to correct myself several times a day! It definitely makes a difference in how we feel in our own bodies! I also try to sit much less than I used to (we turned our computer desk at home into a standing desk using an inexpensive end table to prop the screen up on which definitely helps cut back on sitting). When I do sit, I still want to try and cross my legs several times a day, this is a great reminder to not allow myself to get back into that habit. I just learned the boomerang at the YTU training today and LOVE that pose, and looked up sidewinder which is terrific too! Thanks Amanda!

  3. Nicole Garratt says:

    I actually hadn’t thought of how leg crossing could relate to back pain issues! I always thought how we sat had been a huge factor, but this is another piece to that puzzle. This is definitely going to create awareness for myself when I’m sitting now.

  4. Samantha Martin says:

    Great information! I have the same issue of habitually sitting with my legs crossed or sitting on top of one leg. I know how bad it is but didn’t realize it was also causing low back pain! Now armed with this new knowledge of the affect on the QL and the sticky note as a reminder…I should easily be able to kick this bad habit.

  5. C. Chiu says:

    Excellent article: a personal story, danger warning using anatomical evidence, and recommendations. I knew crossing my legs was bad for my “posture” but never understood the reasons why. Thanks for putting this into an easy-to-understand package.

  6. Chloe Whitfield says:

    I knew that sitting cross legged was bad for you because it can be one of the many reasons why I have varicose veins, but I now have an additional reason not to cross my legs when I sit. I definitely tend to cross my right leg over my left and I first noticed lumbar pain on my right side. Thank you!

  7. Erin says:

    This is something I preach continuously to my ‘desk jockey’ clients who come for regular massages. They so quickly fall into old habits and I see the same recurring issues. I believe movement is the best tactic to break this cycle but the challenge comes from moving out of our heads which is easier said than done. This is especially true when work is extra demanding!

  8. Sarah says:

    I am also a chronic leg-crosser… always right over left. I HAD suffered for years and years with low back pain, but always on my left side. Among other things that might be contributors, I am wondering if always hiking up my right hip (thus contracting my QL on the right side) had rendered my left QL weak and flabby in comparison!

  9. Catherine Jervis says:

    Very interesting you post this! I work up with my back seizing up and experienced Sciatica pain 24 hours sitting on a plane for multiple hours with my legs crossed. It took 6 weeks of physio & massage therapy to cure but the movement professionals never pinpointed the exact event that triggered it.

  10. Janie Hickman says:

    I have read crossing your legs not only causes lower back pain but varicose veins. Try as I might, I often find myself wth my right leg over my left or switching back and forth from side to side knowing all the while it is causing damage. I like your idea of the post it notes as well as the awareness of what it does to your hips, waist and QL. Hopefully this will help me keep my legs parallel…the next hurdle will be feet flat on the floor.

  11. Kerry Cruz says:

    LIGHTBULB! This makes me even more diligent in uncrossing my legs to sit. It was a wonder my right QL and my right low back was screaming! Great artiicle as so many of us habitually do this on a day to day basis.

  12. I’m so greatful to read this post tonight! My legs are parallel and feet flat on the floor as I type this (for the in a long time today) and I didn’t make the connection to the imbalance being from crossing my legs! Mind blown. Today during my YTU teacher training we did a sequence that “rebalanced” my perception in my legs and hips and showed me a new normal. I noticed it immediatly when I sat down for lunch. There was NO need to cross my legs and a new awareness in the postural awareness of my spine. I am going to be vigilant around this habit (which was feeling more like an addiction that the more I did it – the worse i felt and the more i needed) Dare I say it – I’m a leg crossing addict. Well, they say admission is the first step towards healing:)

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Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune Up®

After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.


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