Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

January 10, 2017

W-Sitting: What’s the big problem?

By: Colleen Donley, PT, DPT
  • A w-sit is often seen as a very preferred position for play
  • W-sitting can be harmful to the hip and knee joints as well as muscles throughout the legs
  • W-Sitting can have a negative impact on little ones developing appropriate trunk strength and postural control

A w-sit is when a child is sitting on their bottom with both knees bent and their legs turned out away from their body. If you were to look with a bird’s eye view at your child sitting, their legs would make a W.

Before the age of 3, the bones in little ones are still very malleable (aka flexible) and can twist, turn, etc. due to the stresses put on their body. If we let them sit in a w-sit all day, the ball of the femur bone that goes in the hip joint can actually rotate to a more forward position. This ends up looking like the classic “knock-kneed” position when your child stands, their thighs angle inwards so their knees almost touch. Additionally, a w-sit position puts a child at an increased risk for hip dislocation.

W-sitting can also shorten or tighten muscles in the hip and legs. The hamstrings and hip rotators are most at-risk to become tight in kids who prefer w-sitting. Their knees are always bent so the hamstring is put in a shortened position for a long period of time. This can negatively impact a child’s coordination, balance, and mastering other gross motor skills such as galloping or skipping as they get older.

Most often, I see kiddos prefer to w-sit when they are getting tired and especially those with low muscle tone. W-sit can be considered a “lazy position” because the child does not have to use their trunk muscles to sit upright and not fall over when they want to reach for a toy. W-sitting takes away the hard part of sitting and playing! We do not see children rotate through their trunk to reach for toys when w-sitting. This also discourages crossing midline, which is an amazing skill to develop for the growing and learning brain. Also, splaying the legs out in a w-sit creates a very large base of support so the child doesn’t have to worry about falling over when reaching for a toy. Their legs are going to make sure that doesn’t happen but this does not let them develop the trunk stability and postural control to learn how to balance appropriately. Think…if a child cannot balance appropriate in sitting then they will have a harder time learning how to balance in standing as their center of gravity is raised higher.

At the end of the day, it is likely virtually impossible to follow your busy infant or toddler around the house for all awake moments. As they move from crawling to sitting to rolling and back to sitting, it would be exhausting to correct every instance of w-sitting. Of biggest concern is when you might see your little one sitting in this w-position for an extended period of time while playing with toys or hanging out there during story time or a movie break. This would be the perfect time to ask them to “fix your feet!”

Here are some alternative sitting positions to encourage during playtime: Criss-cross applesauce, long-sitting, side-sitting.

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