Hip

Hip Pain Flare-Ups While Sitting With Crossed Legs: Why They Happen and How to Treat Them

By Last updated on April 5th, 2020 Last updated on April 5th, 2020 No Comments

Crossing our legs is comfortable for most people – many who are absent-mindedly sitting at a desk or in the car may cross them without even noticing, because it feels natural. It may feel comfortable to sit this way, but be aware that sitting in this position for too long can impact health negatively. Read on to learn more about what happens to the body when legs are crossed – and what to do about it.

What Causes Hip Pain?

The hip joint is a complex network of bone and soft tissue. It is prone to injury because of the frequency of use, which can wear down these structures. Many activities, from running to walking to standing up or sitting down, can place stress on the hip joint. The hip can also become injured from a sudden impact such as a fall.

Ball-and-socket joints like the hip and shoulder function in the way that their name suggests: the end of a bone forms a round head, the ball, which fits into a curved spot in another bone, the socket. This type of joint allows for a wider range of motion than any other type of joint in the body. Consider how we can move our arms up and down, and forwards. The same applies to the hip joint – think about someone doing the splits – the range of motion from the ball-and-socket of the hip joint is what allows them to do this.

The ball and socket are covered in a layer of cartilage that allows the joint to glide smoothly during motion. The cartilage also acts as a barrier between two bones that prevents bone-on-bone contact. This soft tissue can become damaged with excessive use or from natural degeneration. When this occurs it can cause pain and discomfort.

Pain in the hip can be short and sharp, or it can be more of a dull, constant ache – or anywhere in between. Other symptoms associated with hip pain include:

  • Weakness
  • Soreness
  • Difficulty Sitting or Standing
  • Pain When Lying on the Affected Side

Certain positions, including sitting with crossed legs, can exacerbate hip pain as it places stress on the joint. It is time to meet with a doctor when any of the associated symptoms become difficult to manage. A medical professional will be able to lay the groundwork for an effective treatment plan.

Sitting With Crossed Legs

Most people have encountered this particular sitting position at some point – many find it more comfortable to sit with their legs crossed while sitting. This position, though it may be comfortable, could also be adding extra stress to the hip joint.

Picture the ball-and-socket joint and pelvic bone. When oriented in certain positions, the joint is allowed to relax. Other positions can cause the ball to pull away from the socket which in turn leaves muscles and tendons more vulnerable to tearing.

It is not recommended to stay in a cross-legged position for a long time; it is generally better for the spine and pelvis as a whole to not be in any one position for an extended period of time. Sitting with crossed legs can rotate the pelvis and result in misalignment of the spine over time.

There is a lot of information about the negative health effects of sitting cross-legged, though many claims have not been tested. It is always a good practice to be aware of posture as often as possible, and correct it when necessary. Though there may be no back pain at the moment, poor posture can lead to a myriad of issues in the future.

Treating Hip Pain

General treatment for hip pain consists of many of the components used to treat shoulder pain, as they are similar in structure and function. Some common treatments for mild to moderate hip pain are:

  • Pain Management: over-the-counter NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as Naproxen or Ibuprofen can help with pain by reducing inflammation. If pain is severe, doctors may consider prescription painkillers. Prescription drugs can be a good option for some but may be risky for others – be sure to discuss risks and side effects with a medical professional.
  • Apply Ice or Heat: doctors may recommend the application of ice and/or heat to the injured area. This can reduce swelling and allow for more comfort.
  • Physical Therapy: trained physiotherapists can help a patient’s healing process by encouraging muscle growth, regaining range of motion, and teaching patients how to care for their hip at home and during certain activities that may be difficult.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: delivering a powerful dose of cortisol to an injury via injection can help relieve pain. This treatment is not recommended for patients with degenerative illnesses like arthritis, because corticosteroid injections can cause soft tissue to break down faster than it would without the injections. Even for relatively healthy patients whose tissue has not yet begun to deteriorate, these injections can cause long-term soft tissue damage.
  • Arthroscopy: a type of surgery that uses a tiny camera and tiny tools to inspect the joint and patch up small abnormalities or injuries. Arthroscopy is good for removing dead or diseased tissue, cutting out abnormal bone growth, and diagnosing conditions.
  • Hip Replacement Surgery: in more extreme cases, or when all other treatments have failed, patients may consider partial or total hip replacement. This procedure involves removing the part of the bone that is causing pain and replacing it with artificial parts. Total hip replacement is a major surgery.

Many individuals find relief from at-home treatments and physical therapy. Symptoms are easier to manage when the patient is willing and able to cooperate with the treatment plan that has been carefully selected for them. There are many exercises that can help relieve pain and strengthen the joint. In the case of severe or persistent hip pain, one might consider non-conventional treatments.

Alternative Options to Treat Hip Pain

Certain aspects of the treatment process are universal – pain management and physical therapy are good examples of things that are recommended to almost everyone with hip pain. Though these treatments may be effective for managing symptoms, it’s fair to ask whether or not they are addressing and attempting to treat the underlying cause.

Regenerative therapies such as Stem Cell Therapy are an option for sufferers of hip pain, before or after surgery. Stem cells occur naturally throughout the body, but they are special because of their ability to “differentiate”, or become other cells in the body. They are also capable of signaling to other healing cells in the body to call them to an injury. Stem cell therapy involves using a patient’s own stem cells to treat injury. This is done via injection.

Another treatment that falls into the “Regenerative Medicine” category is Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy, or PRP, which uses a solution of concentrated platelets to help an injury heal. This is also done via injection. Platelets are a component of blood that contain proteins and growth factors that the body uses in its natural healing process.

By increasing the amount of regenerative cells at an injury site, these cells can help heal damage and prevent further injury. There may also be a decrease in inflammation and therefore pain.

Conclusion

The hip is more important that one might initially think – its flexibility and range of motion have a major influence on many activities. Though they start strong, many aspects of a joint can wear down over time as the joint gets used very frequently. Injury can also cause the joint to malfunction. Certain sitting positions exacerbate issues that are already occurring, and may contribute to further injury – it’s best to not stay in one position for too long.

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Director of Orthopedic & Orthobiologics
Fellowship-trained & Board Certified in Sports medicine
Director Angiography at Harvard Clinical Research Institute
Michigan Stage University Alumni