Published: Mar. 16, 2011
Updated: Mar. 16, 2011
By Kate Griesmann
Whether to be polite or just for comfort, sitting with crossed legs is a common habit. Does this posture increase your chance of developing varicose veins?
According to Duke vein doctor Eric Mowatt-Larssen, MD, that’s not likely. “Some people have speculated that crossing your legs could compress veins in the calf, resulting in increased vein pressure and varicose veins, but this idea has never been verified scientifically,” he said.
Although increased pressure in the veins plays a role in varicose veins, how you sit won’t cause vein damage. Instead, the problem starts inside the veins, with the tiny valves that help circulate your blood.
While standing, a combination of leg-muscle power and one-way valves in the veins work against gravity to push blood up to the heart. If a valve stops working properly, the blood can flow backward, down toward the ankles.
This results in something of a domino effect, Mowatt-Larssen said. The extra blood volume is relayed to the next vein valve down the leg. The increased pressure causes more valves to fail and the affected veins become swollen and visible.
When this happens to medium or large veins they are called varicose veins; smaller, surface-level veins are referred to as spider veins.
“Approximately 25 percent of adults have varicose veins, and most have spider veins,” Mowatt-Larssen said. “Fortunately, fewer -- around 5 percent -- have worse symptoms like ankle skin changes and leg ulcers.”
Even though sitting with crossed legs won’t cause varicose veins, there are several risks factors for developing them: family history, aging, and pregnancy.
Though there is little we can do to reduce most of those risk factors, making a simple addition to your wardrobe may help keep your veins working properly. Wearing compression stockings during the day can help prevent or delay varicose veins.
By applying slight pressure around the leg, the stockings decrease the volume of the veins.
“A standing occupation may also increase the risk for varicose veins,” Mowatt-Larssen said, so compression stockings may be a good idea for anyone who stands for most of the day.
Varicose veins can cause more than just aesthetic problems. Many people experience frequent pain and discomfort in their legs as a result of this condition.
“These symptoms can be corrected safely and effectively with current techniques that have replaced vein stripping,” Mowatt-Larssen said.
Many common varicose vein treatments can be done as outpatient procedures, with minimal scarring or pain involved.
Varicose veins are also the most common cause of leg ulcers, which can have more serious complications.
“If you have varicose veins and a significant amount of leg pain or discomfort, you should have your veins checked by a vein specialist,” Mowatt-Larssen recommended.