Is Sitting Cross-Legged Bad for Your Knees?

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It might be comfortable in the short-term, but should you be sitting cross-legged at your desk all day?
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With more people working from home, you're likely spending the bulk of your days on your butt. And if your home office set-up is more makeshift than ergonomic, odds are you're moving back and forth from the couch to the floor to the kitchen table, trying to find a comfy seated position.

Thing is, sitting in certain positions may mess with your alignment, cause postural issues and even result in pain. You probably know that slouching, leaning back and hunching forward are bad choices, but what about sitting cross-legged?

Kids sit criss-cross applesauce all the time, so do yogis (hello, Lotus pose). Still, that doesn't mean this knee-twisting position is safe for the average adult. Below Sarah Duvall, DPT, physical therapist and founder of Core Exercise Solutions, shares the pros and cons of this pretzel position for your knees.

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How Sitting Cross-Legged Can Affect Your Knees

The good news: If you don't experience any knee pain in this cross-legged posture, you have nothing to worry about, Duvall says. In fact, this seated stance may have big benefits for your mobility and may even make your joints more limber, as long as you're not stuck there all day.

"The more positions you move into and out of each day, the healthier your body will be," she says. That's because when you repeat the same movements — or stick to the same position — you put strain on certain joints, muscles and ligaments.

Sitting in this pretzel position (along with others) can add variety to your daily movement patterns and, as a result, help improve the range of motion in your knees and hip joint. However, everyone's body is different. If you feel any knee discomfort in the cross-legged pose, stop sitting that way, as it can exacerbate pre-existing knee problems.

"Holding the joint in a bent position for an extended period of time can make fluid accumulate, which can cause swelling and pain," Duvall says. "Depending on what's wrong at the knee, the bending and twisting that comes with this position can also aggravate a meniscus tear."

Serving as a shock absorber, the meniscus is a C-shaped piece of rubbery cartilage that cushions the space between your shinbone and thighbone, according to the Mayo Clinic. When you have a torn meniscus, the cross-legged position — which forces your knee to rotate — is not your friend.

What to Do if Sitting Cross-Legged Makes You Stiff

As long as you don't have pain, continuing cross-legged for extended stretches of time won't harm your knees if you do it occasionally. (Just keep in mind: prolonged sitting, in general, isn't great for your overall health.)

But even if you have healthy knees, you might feel a tad of temporary tightness in your legs after lounging cross-legged for a while. When that happens, Duvall suggests doing the following sequence of mellow movements before standing to help soothe the stiffness in your knees and loosen up your limbs.

  1. Slowly and gently bend and straighten your knees to help get the joints moving.
  2. Do 5 ankle circles in each direction. These will help get the blood flowing and the lower legs and knees warmed up.
  3. After ankle circles, rotate your entire leg in and out at the hip socket to get movement and rotation above and below the knee.
  4. Lastly, fully straighten your legs and gently squeeze your quads lifting your kneecaps. Hold that squeeze for 5 seconds, then release and repeat 3 times.

Tip

Try not to overextend your knees. To avoid hyperextension, keep a rolled-up towel beneath your knees.

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