Does Crossing Your Legs Cause Varicose Veins?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Ladies were often told that polite sitting involves crossing the legs, or more often the ankles. Whether or not this truly constitutes polite sitting, there’s no need to worry about varicose veins if you plan on crossing your legs. This is an urban legend, an old wives tale that has been routinely circulated and repeated on the Internet, one which medical professionals dismiss as hogwash. Crossing your legs will not and does not lead to varicose veins or to spider veins.

It's an old wives tale that leg crossing causes varicose veins.
It's an old wives tale that leg crossing causes varicose veins.

The theory that crossing your legs leads to these prominent and damaged veins stems from the idea that crossing the legs can cause compression to the legs, which can create back-up blood flow to the heart. Veins carry blood returning to the heart, and if you were to create enough pressure to slow down this blood flow, veins could pool with blood, enlarging and becoming damaged. Yet any compression caused by crossing your legs is not enough to apply the type of pressure needed to truly stop the regular flow of venous blood; you’re not applying a tourniquet to your legs when you cross them.

The compression caused by keeping the legs crossed is not enough to stop the regular flow of venous blood.
The compression caused by keeping the legs crossed is not enough to stop the regular flow of venous blood.

Similarly, people may be told that wearing compression stockings will cause varicose veins, but this is in fact standard treatment to reduce pain and swelling associated with swollen and damaged veins. If your knee-highs are a bit too tight, for comfort’s sake you might want a slightly looser pair. Yet, you don’t need to worry about varicose veins resulting from tight socks, any more than you need worry about how crossing your legs will affect your veins.

Compression garments may be used to treat varicose veins.
Compression garments may be used to treat varicose veins.

This begs the question then, of what causes varicose veins and what steps you can take to try to prevent them. First, it isn’t always possible to prevent varicose veins, but again, crossing your legs will neither cause nor avoid them. The most common factors for developing varicose veins include heredity — you may just be genetically predisposed toward developing these.

Spider veins are most common in the lower legs and ankles, and are related to circulation.
Spider veins are most common in the lower legs and ankles, and are related to circulation.

Other factors that may increase risk for varicose veins include gender. Varicose veins occur more often in women. Being overweight, having poor circulation to the legs, which can be present in people with diabetes or with heart conditions, and actually having to do a lot of standing may create more varicose veins. Pregnancy can often cause varicose veins to develop and hormone treatments as when women are trying to get pregnant or are using hormone replacement therapy may put people at more risk. Typically birth control pills are not associated with greater risk for developing these painful and swollen veins.

Good news exists, too, in the fact that varicose veins can now be treated through a variety of methods. Ask your doctor about which method might be right for you. Some methods fall under the classification of optional procedures and may not be covered by health insurance. When varicose veins are extremely painful and inhibit activity, people may be able to successfully argue that a procedure to remove the veins is warranted and should be covered by insurance.

Birth control pills are not typically associated with greater risk for developing painful and swollen varicose veins.
Birth control pills are not typically associated with greater risk for developing painful and swollen varicose veins.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon32495

Thanks for clearing that up for me. My band teacher told the girls in the class that if we crossed our legs we'd get varicose veins. But I had a feeling she was lying, so I did a little digging. Thank you so much, now I can tell my friends not to worry!!!

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