W Sitting: Is It Really a Bad Thing?

Sarah Cowgill (Physiotherapist – Burnie/Somerset)

Have you ever noticed your child sitting with their bottom on the floor and their feet out to either side, forming a W?

Have you ever told your child to change their position because you have heard that it bad for their hips and knees to sit that way?

If you google “W sitting” there are many posts that come up talking about how bad W sitting is and how it can be problematic for your child. This however is not necessarily the case.

If you look at the research on W sitting and its implications as an adult there are very limited studies that have been completed. The only research available is W sitting and its involvement in cerebral palsy which is not applicable to most of the population.

W sitting is more often the solution for a problem rather than the cause.

Little boy reading a book at library Premium Photo

Children’s hips are different to adults

When a child is born they have more internal rotation in their hips than we do as adults. This means their thigh bones twist in more. This is very normal and over time, with walking and the forces involved in that activity, our femurs slowly untwist. For some people they may start with more internal rotation than others and so as the legs unwind they may not reach the full outwards rotation that others achieve. It is shown that people whose legs rotate less growing up could be more likely to have hip issues as an adolescent or adult.

Some people have linked the hip injuries as adults to the fact that a lot of them W sat as children. The belief was that W sitting either caused the increased inward twist or didn’t allow full outward rotation to occur and therefore W sitting was bad.

This is untrue as it is the development of walking that causes our hips to outwardly rotate, not sitting. What is more likely is that children who W sit find it comfortable due to the increased internal rotation already present. Trying to get a child whose hips rotate inwards to sit crossed legged, a position which requires their hips to rotate outwards, may not be possible structurally.

W sitting is therefore a way for these children to sit comfortably due to the increased rotation already present – not the cause of the inward rotation.

Children are problem solvers

Children learn new skills at alarming rates. If they want to complete an activity they will work out the easiest way possible to complete it.

For young children who are learning to sit they may yet not have the core strength to sit independently by themselves and therefore W sit.

W sitting allows a very large base of support for the child to balance on. They can reach over and play with toys while keeping themselves stable. They therefore may adopt this position to play in.

Some people are concerned that if children W sit they will not develop the back and core support they need in later life to perform activities as they are not challenged to use these muscles. This is partly true however a young child will develop core strength performing a range of other tasks. Children will develop the necessary core strength as long as they are playing and sitting in numerous positions such as cross legged, tummy play, side sitting, squatting, side lying, crawling as well as in the W position.

W sitting is also handy for children as when they are crawling it is an easy position to fall back onto to stabilize themselves, free their hands and begin play.

Small child 4 years old, playing with a large number of colorful plastic toys in the room Premium Photo

When to be concerned about W sitting

  1. If you child is over the age of 9 months and refuses to play or sit in any other position than W sitting then they may not have the muscle tone to support other sitting positions. If you are concerned you should come and see Sarah at Coastal Physiotherapy.

This being said, the child needs to have had ample opportunity to try to sit in other positions. If they have always been given toys right in front of them or haven’t had the opportunity to develop new skills or positions then they may just have developed a habit which needs to be corrected rather than their tone limiting them. Children will not change unless they have to. Their environment is limiting them rather than a structural problem.

  1. If your child complains of pain when sitting in other positions

What to do if my child W sits?

The first thing to do is not to stress. W sitting is a very normal activity that lots of children do to enable them to participate with the world around them as they develop. Most children grow out of it as they get older.

Ensure they are playing in a range of positions to encourage good muscle development and body awareness. This can include W sitting, cross legged, lying down on their tummy or back, sitting in a chair, running, walking, crawling. If they sit in a W positions for some activities you don’t need to tell them to change as its likely they are sitting like that for a reason and will just go back to that position when you are not looking. Instead encourage a range of games and activities that enable them to use a range of potions and therefore build up overall body strength.

Overall sitting in the W position sometimes for play isn’t likely to affect their overall development.

Sarah works out of Coastal Physiotherapy’s Burnie and Somerset clinic so for the best advice for your child give Coastal Physiotherapy a call today on 64314586!