Knees bent, feet on the outside of the hips, and hips on the ground, the child sits on the ground. When in this position, the child’s legs will resemble the shape of the letter “W”.
Children may occasionally adopt the W position as long as they don’t stay in it all the time or use it as their default position for sitting. It is dangerous for children to frequently or for long periods of time sit in the W position as their preferred sitting position.
Here is what you need to know about W-sitting and what your doctor should answer if you have any concerns.
What is W Sitting?
W-sitting, in its simplest form, is when a child sits with their knees out in front of them and their ankles and feet on either side of their hips, forming the iconic W shape. It appears uncomfortable, don’t you think? However, children actually have a greater range of motion and internal hip rotation than adults, so it’s probably not hurting them.
In fact, sitting in this position is quite typical and is part of normal development. Due to the wide base of support it provides during play and other activities, children may choose to sit in the W position. They don’t have to use as much of their core muscles to sit up straight in this position.
Having said that, you might have read or heard about concerns regarding W-sitting. That is most likely due to the possibility that problems with gross and fine motor development may arise if a child sits in this position too frequently. On occasion, it might even be a warning sign for a different developmental problem that demands attention.
Weak core muscles in children often cause them to W-sit because it gives them a wider base of support. In this position, kids can hold themselves upright without exerting as much effort to keep their balance.
Due to anatomical variations in the hip joint, where the thigh bone twists inward (femoral anteversion), some kids may be more likely to W-sit.
Other children may find it to be initially comfortable to sit in, but over time they may experience muscle tightness that makes it uncomfortable to sit in any other position.
Potential Risks of W-sitting
W-sitting is actually not something you should be overly concerned about on its own. This sitting position is frequently noticed around the age of three, according to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, but it gradually stops happening as kids get older. It’s likely just a comfortable way for your child to play or unwind if they only sit like this occasionally.
W-sitting, however, does raise some issues for both physical and occupational therapists. If your child consistently favors this viewpoint, take the following into account.
Your child may be avoiding coordination and/or independent movement on the right and left sides of the body if they are sitting in a W position. Reaching across the body is discouraged and trunk movement is restricted when seated in the W position.
As an illustration, your child might only use their left hand to reach for objects to the left of their body and only their right hand to reach for objects to the right.
Look out for a delay in hand dominance or dexterity, fine motor delays (cutting paper with scissors, tying shoelaces), and gross motor delays (running, skipping, jumping), and other issues with coordination of the right and left sides of the body.
Has hip dysplasia, a congenital hip disorder, been identified in your child? You should avoid having your child sit in a W position if they have hip dysplasia.
The likelihood that they will dislocate their hips can rise when the legs are seated in this manner. Why? Because when you sit in a W position, your hips are internally rotated to the point where, if you already have joint problems, it could push them out of alignment.
Look out for signs of hip pain, even if your child hasn’t been formally diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Sometimes it takes kids getting a little older and complaining of discomfort for this condition to be noticed.
Regularly sitting in the W position can lead to tight hip and leg muscles. Your child’s developing coordination and balance may be impacted by tight muscles because they may prevent normal motion. The hamstrings, hip adductors, and Achilles tendon are among the muscles that are impacted.
Look out for changes in your child’s gait, like walking pigeon-toed or with the feet turned in. When these muscles are contracted, this can occur.
Trunk and Leg Weakness
Your child may prefer to sit in a W because their legs or trunks aren’t strong enough to support them while playing. The legs take on the majority of the muscle work when seated in a W position, creating a lower center of gravity and a wider base to support movement. Further aiding balance is the fact that the trunk doesn’t move as much in this position.
If your child has high muscle tone or certain neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy, W-sitting might also be a problem. In these situations, W-sitting may cause muscles to become tighter and, over time, sitting in other positions may become challenging. The overall development of your child may be hampered if they continue to sit in the W-position. For instance, it might become challenging to spread the legs apart and rotate the hips outward.
Look out for trouble moving to other sitting positions, particularly if your child has diagnosed neurological conditions or delays that lead to muscle tone issues.
How to Avoid W-sitting?
Encourage other forms of sitting by modeling or using verbal cues:
- Cross-legged sitting: “criss-cross applesauce”
- Long sitting: where the child’s legs are stretched out front of them
- Side sitting: where the child’s knees are bent and both legs are pointing towards the same side of the body
- Select floor exercises that promote regular positioning adjustments.
- Contact a physiotherapist or occupational therapist for additional advice if you are worried about your child’s posture while they are sitting.
Even though it may feel awkward, the W position frequently occurs during normal development. You probably have nothing to worry about as long as your child can transition easily from this position to another.
Encourage your child to sit in different ways if you notice they tend to favor this one in order to support balanced development. If you have further questions or notice any additional W sitting symptoms, speak with your doctor right away.