jehsomwang/ShutterstockChances are that, as a kid, you liked to sit on the ground with your legs spread out behind you in a “W” shape. If you found this the most comfortable way to sit as a kid, you’re not alone. And you’re also not alone if your parents told you, “Don’t sit like that!”
This position, called the “W position,” is a constant source of debate among parents and doctors. Children tend to naturally sit this way, especially if they are watching TV or playing with toys on the floor. Instead of kneeling and sitting on their heels, they have their feet out on either side of them. There are many contrasting opinions about whether or not sitting in this position is harmless. According to a recent Mirror Online interview with London doctor Avni Trivedi, the concern is justified—but the problem has to do with more than just one position. (Learn the so-called “compliments” that might be hurting your kids.)
Trivedi is an osteopath, meaning that she specializes in muscle and bone structure. She told Mirror Online that the W position can “put pressure on the developing joints of the lower body such as hips and knees.” She says it can be especially dangerous for children who might be double-jointed. The position also puts strain on the lower back, causing an unnatural arch, which can be painful.
However, it’s not just the W position. Trivedi warns that sitting, no matter how, for a very long period of time is inadvisable. It can “place undue pressure on the neck, shoulders and upper back,” she said. “As it is, kids spend too long craning into screens and carrying heavy backpacks.”
Dr. Pablo Castañeda, an orthopedic surgeon at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, explains why children like to sit this way. The W position results from what is known as “femoral anteversion, in which the top of the femur bone is tilted forward, relative to the knee.” This is natural for children, and most outgrow it (which explains why you don’t often see older children or adults sitting in the “W” position). However, Castañeda says that in some cases, extreme femoral anteversion can be a sign of hip dysplasia, a leading cause of arthritis. He says that if a child’s “W” position looks “asymmetric,” like the child is favoring one side of the body over the other, it might be a sign of an underlying condition.
So, what to do? If your kids love to sit like this, try to break them of the habit. Something as simple as giving them a cushion to sit on can prevent them from sitting in a damaging way. Trivedi recommends that they “straddle-sit, or sit in a squat, or sit with their knees raised.” However, she encourages parents to make sure kids are balancing time spent sitting at all—whether for play or schoolwork—with outdoor play and exercise. Check out these photos of kids playing before technology took over for some inspiration. And, as always, it’s better to be safe than sorry; see a doctor if you think your child could be doing something harmful.