What’s wrong with W-sitting?

“W” sitting. Have you heard of it? A friend of mine has a child who “W’” sits and was concerned about it. We decided to chat to Nicole Hilburn, Paediatric Physiotherapist and Clamber Club Expert. Here is what she had to say:

 

To adults, ‘W-sitting’ may look like a complicated yoga pose, but for young children, it’s a common, comfortable sitting position. Even though W-sitting seems to come naturally, letting your child sit in this position can have far-reaching consequences on their physical development.

 

What is W-sitting?

W-sitting is when a child sits in-between his bent legs, with his bottom on the ground. The knees and thighs may be touching. When looking at a child from above, the legs form the shape of a ‘w’.

 

Why do children sit in this position?

“W-sitting provides a child with a wide base of support and a lower centre of gravity – essentially giving him more stability,” explains Nicole. “It is often a sign that a child has core weakness, as he will use this position to avoid engaging the muscles of the trunk.”

 

What is the impact of W-sitting?

  • If a child already has poor core muscle strength, the W-sitting position allows him to do an activity without using these muscles
  • The extensor muscles of the back are also not active in this position, and the child may develop a rounded posture as a result
  • In this position, the child does not use any rotatory movements nor does he have to shift his weight off his base. This may affect his balance and ability to cross the midline
  • The muscles of the legs and hips may become short and tight, which could lead to pigeon-toed walking, as well as pain with age
  • Due to muscle tightness at the hips, the child may also compensate with a rounded posture
  • There is a lot of strain placed on the knees in this position, leading to a condition called tibial torsion, which may result in knee and leg pain at night after a very active day

“Poor core stability may lead to difficulty with gross motor skills, and a weak shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle, as there is no stable base from which to develop. This will make fine motor activities difficult for the child,” says Hilburn. “W-sitting also exacerbates poor core stability, as the child is never active when sitting.”

 What can you do?

Parents should encourage a W-sitting child to use other positions, such as:

  • Side sitting
  • Cross-legged sitting
  • Sitting with legs out straight
  • Sitting on a chair at a table.

Hilburn adds: “If the child is unable to change to using any of these other positions, he may need to be seen by a paediatric physiotherapist in order to correct his muscle strength and length.”

Liz Senior, Occupational Therapist and Founder of Clamber Club, suggests activities that promote strengthening of the core muscles: “Encourage physical outdoor play, including swimming, climbing, rolling and crawling. Wheelbarrow walk is a great game for strengthening the core muscles and shoulder girdle. Bridging exercises also strengthen the core – make a body ‘tunnel’ that toy cars can drive through or that you can roll a ball under. Not only will these activities improve core strength, but they can also be a lot of fun!”

 

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