Tag Archives: w-sitting

Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way

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I don’t have a good photo to illustrate this point, but if you or your child are hypermobile, you know exactly what I am talking about.  It can be any part of the body; shoulders that allow an arm to fold under the body and the child lies on top of the arm, crawling on the backs of the hands instead of the palms, standing on the sides of the feet, not the soles.

The mom of a child I currently treat told me that this topic is frequently appearing on her online parent’s group.  Mostly innocent questions of “Does your child do this too?”  and responses like “At least she is finally moving on her own”  When I met her child, she was rolling her head backward to such a degree that it was clearly a risk to her cervical (neck) spine.  We gradually decreased, and have almost eliminated, this behavior.  This child is now using it to get attention when she is frustrated, not to explore movement or propel herself around the room.

Because of their extreme flexibility and the additional gradual stretching effects of these positions, most children will not register or report pain in these positions.  Those of us with typical levels of flexibility can’t quite imagine that they aren’t in pain.  Unfortunately, because of their decreased proprioception Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children and decreased sense of stability, many hypermobile kids will intentionally get into these awkward postures as they seek more sensory input.  It can actually feel good to them to feel something!

The fact that your child isn’t in pain at the moment doesn’t mean that there isn’t damage occurring as you watch them contort their bodies, but the underlying inflammation and injury may only be perceived later, and sometimes not for years.  Possibly not until tissue is seriously damaged, or a joint structure is injured.  Nobody wants that to happen. Read   Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing.  If you think that there is a chance that your child is more than just loose-limbed, ask your therapist to read Could Your Pediatric Therapy Patient Have a Heritable Disorder of Connective Tissue? and get their opinion on whether to pursue more evaluations.  Some causes of hypermobility have effects on other parts of the body.  An informed parent is the best defense.

Here is what you can do about all those awkward postures:

  • Discuss this behavior with your OT or PT, or with both of them.  If they haven’t seen a particular behavior, take a photo or video on your phone.
  • Your professional team should be able to explain the risks, and help you come up with a plan.  For the child I mentioned above, we placed her on a cushion in a position where she could not initiate this extreme cervical hyperextension.  Then we used Dr. Harvey Karp’s “kind ignoring” strategy.  We turned away from her for a few seconds, and as soon as she stopped fussing, we offered a smile and a fun activity.  After a few tries, she got the message and the fussing was only seconds.  And it happens very infrequently now, not multiple times per day.
  • Inform everyone that cares for your child about your plan to respond to these behaviors, to ensure consistency.  Even nonverbal children learn routines and read body language.  Just one adult who ignores the behavior will make getting rid of a behavior much, much harder.
  • Find out as much as you can about safe positioning and movement.  Your therapists are experts in this area.  Their ideas may not be complicated, and they will have practical suggestions for you.  I will admit that not all therapists will approach you on this subject.  You may have to initiate this discussion and request their help.  There are posts on this blog that could help you start a conversation.  Read Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters) and Kids With Low Muscle Tone: The Hidden Problems With Strollers  and How To Reposition Your Child’s Legs When They “W-Sit”.  Educate yourself so that you know how to respond when your child develops a new movement pattern that creates a new risk.  Kids are creative, but proactive parents can respond effectively!!joshua-coleman-655076-unsplash
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Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters)

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Children who sit on the floor with their thighs rolled inward and their calves rotated out to the sides are told that they are “W-sitting”.  Parents are told to reposition their kids immediately.  There are even garments like Hip Helpers that make it nearly impossible to sit in this manner.  Some therapists get practically apoplectic when they see kids sitting this way.  I get asked about W-sitting no less than 3x/week, so I though I would post some information about w-sitting, and some simple ways to address this without aggravating your child or yourself:

  1. This is not an abnormal sitting pattern.  Using it all the time, and being unable to sit with stability and comfort in other positions…that’s the real problem.  Typically-developing kids actually sit like this from time to time.  When children use this position constantly, they are telling therapists something very important about how they use their bodies.  But abnormal?  Nah.
  2. Persistent W-sitting isn’t without consequence just because it isn’t painful to your child.  As a child sits in this position day after day, some muscles and ligaments are becoming overstretched.  This creates points of weakness and instability, on top of any hypermobility that they may already display.  Other muscles and ligaments are becoming shorter and tighter.  This makes it harder for them to have a wide variety of movements and move smoothly from position to position.  Their options for rest and activity just decreased.  Oops.  And they don’t feel uncomfortable in that position.  If you aren’t hyper mobile yourself, you might not believe me.  Here is an explanation:  Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way.
  3. Sitting this way locks a child into a too-static, too-stable sitting position.  This appeals to the wobbly child, the weak child, and the fearful child, but it makes it harder for them to shift and change position.  Especially in early childhood, developing coordination is all about being able to move easily, quickly and with control.  There are better choices.
  4. A child who persistently W-sits is likely to get up and walk with an awkward gait pattern.   All that over-stretching and over-tightening isn’t going to go away once they are on their feet.  You will see the effects as they walk and run.  It is the (bad) gift that keeps on giving.

What can you do?

Well, good physical and occupational therapy can make a huge difference, but for today, start by reducing the amount of time they spend on the floor.  There are other positions that allow them to play and build motor control:

  • Encourage them to stand to play.  They can stand at a table, they can stand at the couch, they can stand on a balance disc.  Standing, even standing while gently leaning on a surface, could be helping them more than W-sitting.
  • Give them a good chair or bench to sit on.  I am a big fan of footstools for toddlers and preschoolers.  They are stable and often have non-skid surfaces that help them stay sitting.  They key is making sure their feet can be placed flat on the floor with their thighs at or close to level with the floor.  This should help them activate their trunk and hip musculature effectively.
  • Try prone.  AKA “tummy time”; it’s not just for babies.  This position stretches out tight hip flexors and helps kids build some trunk control.  To date, I haven’t met one child over 3 who wouldn’t play a short tablet game with me in this position.  And them we turn off the device and play with something else in the same position!
  • If your child still wants/ needs to sit on the floor, fix their leg position without risking damage to their hips and knees.  Read How To Correctly Reposition Your Child’s Legs When They “W-Sit” for more details.

For more strategies for hypermobile kids, take a look at  Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way and How Hypermobility Affects Self-Image, Behavior and Activity Levels in Children.

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Hypermobile Toddlers: It’s What Not To Do That Matters Most

 

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Do you pick up your toddler and feel that shoulder or those wrist bones moving a lot under your touch?  Does your child do a “downward dog” and her elbows look like they are bending backward?  Does it seem that his ankles are rolling over toward the floor when he stands up?  That is hypermobility, or excessive joint movement.

Barring direct injury to a joint, ligament laxity and/or low muscle tone are the usual culprits that create hypermobility.  This can be noticed in one joint, a few, or in many joints throughout the body.  While some excessive flexibility is quite normal for kids, other children are very, very flexible.  This isn’t usually painful for the youngest children, and may never create pain for your child at any point in their lifetime.  That doesn’t mean that you should ignore it.  Hypermobility rarely goes away, even though it often decreases a bit with age in some children.  It can be managed effectively with good OT and PT treatment.   And what you avoid doing at this early stage can prevent accidental joint injury and teach good habits that last a lifetime.

  1. Avoid over-stretching joints, and I mean all of them.  This means that you pick a child up with your hands on their ribcage and under their hips, not by their arms or wrists.  Instruct your babysitter and your daycare providers, demonstrating clearly to illustrate the moves you’d prefer them to use. Don’t just tell them over the phone or in a text.  Your child’s perception of pain is not always accurate when joint sensory aren’t stimulated (how many times have they smacked into something hard and not cried at all?) so you will always want to use a lift that produces the least amount of force on the most vulnerable joints.  Yes, ribs can be dislocated too, but not nearly as easily as shoulders, elbows or wrists.  For all but the most vulnerable children, simply changing to this lift instead of pulling on a limb is a safe bet.  Read Have a Child With Low Tone or a Hypermobile Baby? Pay More Attention to How You Pick Your Little One Up
  2. Actively discourage sitting, lying or leaning on joints that bend backward.  This includes “W” sitting.   I have lost count of the number of toddlers I see who lean on the BACK  of their hands in sitting or lying on their stomach.  This is too much stretch for those ligaments.  Don’t sit idly by.  Teach them how to position their joints.  If they ask why, explaining that it will cause a “booboo” inside their wrist or arm should be enough.  If they persist, think of another position all together.  Sitting on a little bench instead of the floor, perhaps? Read   Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters) for more information and ideas.
  3. Monitor and respect fatigue.  Once the muscles surrounding a loose joint have fatigued and don’t support it, that joint is more vulnerable to injury.  Ask your child to change her position or her activity before she is completely exhausted.  This doesn’t necessarily mean stopping the fun, just altering it.  But sometimes it does mean a full-on break.  If she balks, sweeten the deal and offer something desirable while you explain that her knees or her wrists need to take a rest.  They are tired.  They may not want to rest either, but it is their rest time.  Toddlers can relate.

Although we as therapists will be big players in your child’s development, parents are and always will be the single greatest force in shaping a child’s behavior and outlook.  It is possible to raise a hypermobile child that is active, happy, and aware of their body in a nonjudgmental way.    It starts with parents understanding these simple concepts and acting on them in daily activities.

 

Wondering about your stroller or how to help your child sit for meals or play?  Read Kids With Low Muscle Tone: The Hidden Problems With StrollersThe Cube Chair: Your Special Needs Toddler’s New Favorite Seat!,  Kids With Low Muscle Tone: The Hidden Problems With Strollers and Picking The Best Trikes, Scooters, Etc. For Kids With Low Tone and Hypermobility for practical ideas that help your child today!

Wondering about your child’s speech and feeding development?  Take a look at Can Hypermobility Cause Speech Problems? to learn more about the effects of hypermobility on communication and oral motor skills.

Looking for information on toilet training your child with Ehlers Danlos syndrome, generalized ligament laxity, or low muscle tone?  My e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, gives you detailed strategies for success, not philosophy or blanket statements.  I include readiness checklists, discuss issues that derail training such as constipation, and explain the sensory, motor, and social/emotional components of training children that struggle to gain the awareness and stability needed to get the job done.  You will start making progress right away!

My e-book is available on my website tranquil babies, at Amazon, and at Your Therapy Source.

Why is W-Sitting Such a Big Deal?

 

Does your child sit on the floor with their legs rotated out to the sides, feet pointing in front of them?  Is this their preferred pattern of sitting on the floor?  Is it, in fact, the only position your really ever see them use on the floor?  Well then, you have yourself a W-sitter.  And it might not be the death knell to development that you may have been led to believe.  But here is why it can affect your child’s walking and sitting, and here are some easy ways to address this issue.

“W” sitting is not an abnormal sitting pattern.  Let me repeat and refine that: it is not abnormal for young children to sit in that position at times throughout the day.  It is a very stable position that allows them to reach forward for toys placed directly in front of them.  If your child uses a variety of sitting patterns, and you have no indication from anyone that they have issues with strength or stability, relax.

Therapists get concerned when three things happen: your child uses only this position when floor sitting, she isn’t comfortable or stable in any other position so that even if you help her sit another way, she pops out of it and reverts to “W” sitting or falls over, and she also has either low muscle tone or weakness in her hip and trunk muscles.  I am not going to delve into the difference between muscle tone and muscle strength, and kids who “W” sit can absolutely have issues with both.  But if your child has that triple play (preference, instability/discomfort, and tone/strength issues) then you should take action to reduce “W”-sitting.

Here is the reason why:  This position will create an imbalance in hip muscle strength, bias your child’s movement patterns in ways that actually weaken their core musculature, and over-stretch the non-elastic ligaments that support the spine and hip.  “W” sitting is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The more this pattern is used, the less control your child has for strong, dynamic and balanced trunk and hip control.  Therapy can do a great job of helping your child build the strength and control to use a wider range of sitting and movement patterns.  This is what you can do:

  • Pay attention to how they sit, and offer alternatives.  Sitting on a bench or chair that is well-proportioned for them is a good alternative.  This means that you have to offer a young child a table and a chair that allows them to place their entire foot flat on the floor while sitting, and reach objects on a table with ease.  Big-box stores do not sell sets that fit children under 3 unless your child is at the top of the height curve.  Look around for wooden sets that you can make shorter, take a look at the sites that sell Montessori sets or school supply sets.  Don’t let the price tags frighten you: these things sell fast on ebay or craigslist.  When your child is 4 or 5, go out and buy the bigger set.
  • Try not sitting.  Have them stand at a table, and easel, or use toys that stick to the wall or another vertical surface for play.  A child can lie on their stomach or even try hands-and knees play.  Use high kneeling at a table ( child kneels on knees but hips aren’t touching their bottom, their upper body is straight up). Your PT will thank me.
  • This is an extra credit question:  Why would you ask them to lie on their back and play?  Answer:  They engage their core more fully, and their legs are likely to either be planted flat on the floor or raised up in the air in play.  Kick/catch a balloon or something equally silly.
  •  Children love to be seen as more mature.  Tell them that since they are growing up,these new positions are for big kids and grown-ups, and since babies aren’t strong, that is why they prefer to “W” sit.  That should motivate them to give these a try!