W – sitting, as the name suggests, is when somebody sits on the floor and their legs make the shape of a W. The bottom is on the floor with knees bent, hips rotated internally and feet on either side the bottom.
It is a position that many children will use naturally while they are playing, without any concerns. Indeed, there are some people who have w-sat their whole lives and have ‘nothing wrong with them’. You may hear them reassuring you with ‘it did me no harm’. (this is a great article on w – sitting btw)
It may not have done them any harm which is brilliant for them and it may not cause any harm to your child however, there are four important reasons why w-sitting is NOT recommended for more than a few moments at a time.
Therapists do not like to see children w-sitting because the position:
- Puts unnatural stresses on the child’s hips, knees and feet
- Tightens and shortens main muscles in the legs
- Compromises development and use of core muscles
- Can cause developmental delay
I’ll try to explain why….
1. W-sitting puts unnatural stresses on the child’ hips, knees and feet
To sit like this, the hips are completely internally rotated. This puts an extreme amount of pressure on the hip joint and also causes some muscles of the hips to become short and contracted which restricts joint mobility. This will have an effect on the way that the hip and pelvis move which impacts on the development of walking.
This extreme rotation can also lead to an increased risk of hip dislocation in some children.
2. Tightens and shortens main muscles in the legs
As well as hip rotation, the knees are in extreme internal rotation and the ankles in extreme external rotation, with the resulting forces causing spasm and tightness through the hamstrings, inner thigh muscles (adductors) and calf muscles.
Low back pain is often linked with tight hamstrings so this is definitely something to try and help children avoid. Tightness in these muscles can also be a cause of children toe – walking.
3. Compromises development and use of core muscles
When a child w-sits, the legs provide a wide, stable base of support and they don’t have to work very hard to stay upright. The child tends to sit with a slightly rounded back and there is no trunk rotation, weight shifting, or balance reactions necessary to assume or maintain w-sitting.
W-sitting tends to be quite a static position with the child only really moving slightly forwards or to the side. This leads to very little or no activation of the tummy muscles and so development of really important core muscle strength and trunk control is delayed. This can lead to developmental delay and complications in later life.
4. W-sitting can cause developmental delay
As discussed above, w-sitting is quite an inactive position for a child to be in, resulting in limited development of core strength and rotation meaning that a child is less inclined to reach across their body to pick something up. Instead, they will generally prefer to use the right hand for objects placed on the right and left hand to pick up things from the left. This can delay development of hand preference.
The lack of cross – body movement, along with weak core muscles means that independent sitting, crawling, walking and other developmental skills may all be delayed.
For more information about the sitting position that stresses therapists out (!), why children w-sit and what you can do about it, click here.
W-sitting is not a good position for anyone but there are some children who the position could be particularly detrimental for:
- Orthopaedic conditions. W-sitting can predispose a child to hip dislocation so avoid the position if there is a history of hip dysplasia or other hip concerns
- Children with cerebral palsy, neurological concerns or developmental delay. In a child with high tone or spasticity, w-sitting aggravates abnormal movement patterns and postures and should be avoided
- Hamstring, adductor or calf muscle tightness will be made worse by w-sitting
Children with these conditions should avoid w-sitting and be encouraged to make use of other sitting positions which will aid in the development of more desirable movement and postures.