Many of my friends, most of whom are around 30 years of age, have suffered from an episode or 2 of back pain. In fact, the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore estimates that 60-90% of people suffer from back pain at some point in their lives.What is even more worrying, the statistics show that 65% of back pain cases affect people of age 21-40. The question that we need to ask is why? I read some research papers which shows that being able to do what is called an ‘Asian Squat’ may help with back pain. So I decided to test this theory with some of my friends who suffered from back pain before. Sure enough, all of them failed to do a proper Asian Squat.
What is The Asian Squat?
Figure 1 shows the difference between an Asian Squat and a Western Squat.The steps to do an Asian Squat are:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Lower your buttocks while bending your knees until your buttocks touches your heels
- Feet are flat on the floor, including the heel
- Your center of gravity is over your feet and belly button
- When Rising from the position, slowly rise out of the squat focusing on the belly button to maintain your balance
How Does it Help With Back Pain?
It may sound weird to you, but the human body was never designed to sit at the 90 degrees angle that most of us sit in today. The way we sit today transfers most of our body weight onto the chair and it makes us completely shut off many of our core muscles. Muscles like the buttock muscles and the deep abdominals are critical in maintaining our posture and protecting your spine. However, when we sit, these muscles completely switch off. If you sit long enough, these muscles become used to not activating normally.
Another muscle that is often very much affected by sitting too much is the hip flexors. A tight hip flexor pulls the upper lumbar spine forward which puts you out of alignment. Your upper body now rests on the sitting bone instead of being distributed along the arch of the spine. This is a leading cause of back pain and overall loss of function.
How does being able to do the Asian Squat help then? A resting squat ensures that you have your weight equally distributed down the spine and lower limbs. More importantly, because you don’t transfer your whole body weight to a chair, the core muscles don’t switch off. Your spine remains protected by the active muscles. Furthermore, squatting maintains our range of motion past the 90 degrees flexion we normally adopt when sitting. This ensures that your joints are producing their natural lubricant called the synovial fluids. If the the spine, hips and knees never go to the end of range—the body says ‘I’m not being used’ and starts to degenerate and stops the production of synovial fluid.
Why Can't I Do the Asian Squat?
The biggest challenge seems to be getting the feet flat on the ground. Your ankle range is the main culprit of why you can’t keep your feet flat while squatting. In addition to that, tight hips muscles and back stiffness makes it difficult for you to place your center of gravity over your feet. This is why you will feel like falling backwards when you try to squat.
Practice for a few minutes a day and slowly elongated the resisting muscles. Well into old age, you will appreciate the added flexibility. The important point to remember is to ensure flat feet and proper balance to keep the stress off of the knee joints, which is one of the advantages of the Asian squat.
Below is a video of our therapist demonstrating an ankle stretch to help you achieve the Asian Squat. If you want to find out more useful tips and advice, check out our blog and YouTube channel. We hope this article has been useful for you. As always, contact us if you have any questions.