Sciatica from crossing legs is one of those old myths, but may have a degree of truth for some individuals who suffer recurrent back and leg pain associated with a crossed legged posture. Crossing the legs is not inherently bad for the back, although the posture can place inordinate stress on certain anatomical targets, such as the sacroiliac joints, lumbar spine, hip joints and the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve.
This dialog will detail the relationship between sitting with legs crossed and the occurrence of sciatica symptoms in the low back, buttocks, legs and/or feet.
Most people do not sit for extended lengths of time with their legs crossed in a static position. For those who do, it is crucial to know that you are concentrating the force applied to your lower body, by decreasing the surface area in contact with the sitting surface.
When seated with your feet flat on the floor and both buttocks in contact with the chair, the force of the position is applied naturally and equally to the lower body. However, when sitting with the legs crossed, all the downward force is applied to only one side of the lower body, concentrated on one half of the buttocks, the sacroiliac joint and the hip socket.
Just because the force of your body is concentrated on one side does not mean that sciatica will necessarily occur. However, certain pre-dispositions to developing back and leg pain may be aggravated by this posture, especially when it is maintained for an extended time frame.
Obesity will increase the chances for crossed legged back pain, as will a propensity for muscular pain syndromes commonly caused by psychosomatic conditions.
Remember that sitting for a long time is often performed for work-related tasks and is stressful for that very reason. Never underestimate the body’s reaction to emotional and psychological stresses, especially those which may be subconscious or suppressed.
If you are truly worried that sitting with crossed legs will cause you pain, then the solution is obvious. Stop sitting that way. There is no need and social morays will have to take a back seat to good health. For patients who suffer from pain even though they stopped sitting in a cross-legged posture long ago, the connection is unlikely to be significant.
Sitting in any position is not likely to cause permanent damage to any bodily structure, as long as the sitting is performed under normal conditions and for normal time periods. Do not forget that sitting sciatica is a common symptomatic expression, but mostly due to psychological conditioning, rather than structural concern.
For additional information about how seated postures might aggravate structural and nonstructural lower back and sciatica problems, talk to your physical therapist.