Do you remember your preschool teacher saying “sit criss-cross applesauce”? Well they may not have known it but not only were they getting children to sit together all the same way they were also teaching proper alignment with the legs and feet.
In my dance and movement classes I often say “do not sit like a W”. What is W-Sitting? Have you ever seen a child sitting on their bottom with their legs folded out beside them? If you were to look down from above them you would see a “W”. W-sitting is when the upper legs are internally rotated while the lower legs are externally rotated. This should be discouraged because it contributes to orthopedic problems.
According to Jay Riley, a licensed physical therapist:
W-sitting can be fairly common in children, however if not corrected, can lead to several orthopedic issues potentially progressing into adulthood.
W-sitting places the hips into internal rotation, leading to a shortening of muscles, tendons, and ligaments on one side of the hip, and weakening muscles on the opposite side. This imbalance can eventually affect the child’s gait pattern by altering mechanics at the hips, knees and feet, potentially leading to pain and dysfunction.
The position of the hips in W-sitting can also lead to hip impingement, which can cause pain and the potential for arthritis.
W-sitting also affects the child’s trunk and core. Utilizing a W-sit position centers the child’s body between their hips and legs therefore decreasing the need for the development of postural strength and control. Core weakness can subsequently lead to poor sitting and standing posture, increased stress on the spine, and balance deficits.
W-sitting can be prevented by encouraging the child to sit in different postures, stretching tight hip muscles and working on core and hip strengthening.
In ballet, dancers are encouraged to work on turn-out or rotation of the legs at the hips. W-sitting discourages this. I can always tell a child that W-sits because they have what I call “Floppy Feet” where the feet flop inward when the legs are extended out. How do I encourage proper leg rotation with little ones? I use a skit where we sit in a butterfly position with the bottoms of the feet together, backs straight and tall, and our hands holding our ankles. I ask my little ones to smell their feet where of course they are quite smelly every dance class. We wash them, dry them, and put different smelling creams. The dancers and I are so happy that our feet smell good that we celebrate by letting balloons fly above our heads (port de bra). This imaginative exercise allows the dancer to remain in this position for about 3-5 min which encourages lengthening of those muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are inhibited during W-Sitting… plus it is really fun!
So the next time you see a little one W-Sitting ask them to smell their feet!