As a pediatric physical therapist, and as someone who has torn both their ACLs by the time they were 15, I cringe whenever I see anyone sitting in the W-sit position.
So what is W-sitting? Rather than overwhelm you with a verbal description, here’s a picture:
There’s a slight disagreement on whether we (physical therapists) should be adamant to parents about not letting their children sit in this position, or that we should let children like this occasionally.
On the pro-side of sitting W-sit, people will likely say, “Well I sat like this my whole life and I’m fine.” It is true, that if you do sit in that position you will likely not have any problems when you’re older. On the other hand, sitting cross-legged or side-sit is a better position overall, so why not prevent yourself from having problems in the future and just not sit in that position!
So again, I go to the title of my post. When I evaluate patients who are developmentally delayed, and then see that they W-sit, I ask the parents how long they’ve been sitting that way, they usually say, “Oh they always sit like that and we thought it was cute so we never corrected them.”
Different sitting positions:
Why would a child sit in W-sit?
- 1- It’s easier to return to sitting from a crawling position. When you’re on your hands and knees, it’s easier to just sit backwards and let your legs splay out to the sides rather than bringing your legs around and sitting in cross-legged position.
- 2- It’s easier to sit in W-sit rather than in cross-legged or sidesit or longsit position because you don’t need to use your hip, back, or ab muscles to stay sitting up. Instead, you can just rest on your ligaments and slouch into that W-sit position.
- 3- The child may have low muscle tone (condition where muscles aren’t as tight as they need to be and feel slightly mushier), and be more flexible, so it is easier for them to slouch into that position than sit in the other positions.
- 4- The child may have tight hamstrings/hip muscles, and feels more comfortable sitting in W-sit position.
So why shouldn’t you let your child sit in W-sit?
- 1- If you were told your child is prone to hip dislocation or has a diagnosis of hip dysplasia, sitting in W-sit may increase risk for hip dislocation.
- 2- Sitting in W-sit doesn’t encourage use of hip, abs, back muscles, so your child will not be strengthening the crucial muscles needed to maintain proper posture and to balance in order to walk independently.
- 3- Sitting in W-sit doesn’t encourage reaching across one’s body to reach for toys, which is an important skill needed to help us understand where our body is in space. When a child begins to reach across their body to pick up toys and then transfer them to the other hand, they are gradually developing a hand preference.
- 4- Sitting in W-sit can affect the position of a child’s hip joint as they grow and can result in in-toeing.
- 5- Sitting in W-sit also leads to tight hamstrings and inner thigh muscles, which can affect posture and walking pattern later on, making it difficult for your child to sit in a cross-legged position, especially during circle time at school.
The best strategy to prevent W-sitting is to correct the position each time you see it so your child doesn’t make a habit out of it. Encourage your child to sit in one of the other positions shown above. If your child has tight thigh muscles, I recommend stretching their hamstrings.
If trunk or hip strength is the issue, than you should work on strengthening those areas.