Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is credited with the discovery of acupressure, a type of therapy that uses pressure points located along the body’s meridians to reduce pain and improve overall health. Acupressure is believed to stimulate the flow of chi — or life force energy — along these pathways, allowing the body to return to balance. Acupressure mats are a modern, innovative way to use this ancient healing practice at home. These mats are made of hundreds of plastic spikes that are arranged in a pattern according to TCM principles. When you lie or stand on the mat, the spikes stimulate the pressure points along your body, activating the flow of chi and providing relief from pain and tension. There is some scientific backing to these claims (which we’ll highlight below). But first, let’s take a look at how an acupressure mat works.
Why Do Acupressure Mats Work?
The concept behind the spiky, needle-like projections of an acupressure mat is simple:
When pressure is applied to a particular point on the body, it stimulates blood flow and oxygen to the area. This increases circulation which translates to a supply of fresh nutrients — including endorphins and serotonin — which can help reduce pain, tension, and inflammation (5).
In addition to the physical benefits of increased circulation and oxygenation, the use of acupressure mats can also provide mental and emotional benefits. Many people report a sense of relaxation and improved mood after their session (5).
Is Acupressure Scientifically Proven?
The scientific evidence for acupressure mats is quite slim, but there are a few studies that point to its potential effectiveness.
One study found that acupuncture mats can help reduce pain in people with chronic lower back pain. The results showed that the participants who used an acupressure mat had significantly lower levels of pain than those in the control group (8).
However, because the participants continued other forms of therapy such as medication and physical therapy, it is impossible to know how much credit can be given to the mat alone (8).
Another study focused on the effects of acupressure mats on sleep quality. The results showed that those who used an acupressure mat at bedtime had improved sleep quality, reduced stress levels and fatigue (1).
However, the sample size was fairly small which means that these results need to be taken in context.
A conflicting study showed that there was no significant difference in sleep quality between those who used an acupressure mat and those in the control group. The authors concluded that more research is needed to determine the efficacy of acupressure mats for sleep quality (6).
A review of research into acupressure for pain management during labor found that there is some evidence that acupressure can help reduce labor pain. Women who used acupressure during labor reported feeling less pain than those who did not (3).
A warning from this review, however, is that acupressure mats should not be used before week 38 of pregnancy due to the risk of premature labor (3).
While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind acupressure mats, these preliminary studies provide a compelling argument for their potential benefits. And even so, being a non-invasive, affordable, and readily available form of therapy, acupressure mats are worth a try.
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What Is Acupressure Good For?
According to both Traditional Chinese Medicine and user reports, acupressure mats can be used to treat a range of issues including:
Think of your muscles as a rubber band — if you don’t stretch them, they can become tight and sore. The pressure from the acupressure mat helps loosen tight muscles and relieve tension, making you feel more relaxed (9).
The spikes from the acupressure mat can help stimulate pressure points that are associated with sciatica pain. These points include the lower back, hips, and legs — all areas that are commonly affected by sciatica (8).
When these pressure points are stimulated, it can help relax the muscles and also reduce inflammation (8).
Back And Neck Pain
The spikes from the acupressure mat help stimulate pressure points in your back and neck that are associated with pain relief. When these points are stimulated, it can help relax the muscles in these areas and reduce inflammation (8).
Headaches And Migraines
A headache or migraine can be caused by tense muscles, poor blood circulation, or other factors. The pressure from the mat helps to increase circulation and reduce muscle tension, which can help alleviate headaches and migraines (7).
Plus, applying pressure on specific points triggers the release of endorphins, which can help reduce pain.
Destressing techniques such as yoga and meditation are excellent for relieving stress. But some people find that the pressure from acupressure mats works better for them in certain situations (4).
Just like massages that feel good and comforting, the use of acupressure mats can trigger the release of endorphins — which are “happy hormones” — offering a sense of relaxation and calmness.
Plus, knowing that you’re doing something good for your body can also help reduce stress levels.
The calming sensations from the acupressure mat can help reduce stress and anxiety, making it easier to fall asleep. The pressure from the spikes also helps relax your muscles and reduce tension and pain, which can make it easier to drift off into a peaceful sleep (1).
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When Should I Use My Acupressure Mat?
Given the many purported benefits of acupressure mats, you may be wondering when is the best time to use one. While it may vary based on individual needs and preferences, we recommend using the acupressure mat in the following scenarios:
- After a long day at work or school – The combination of pressure points and relaxation can help to relieve stress and tension.
- Before exercising – Acupressure mats may help to improve circulation, which can result in increased energy and better performance during physical activities.
- After exercising – The pressure points can help to reduce soreness and inflammation.
- Before going to bed – Acupressure mats can promote a feeling of relaxation and calmness, which can help to improve sleep.
- Whenever you need to relax – Acupressure mats may help you achieve a feeling of tranquility and inner peace.
No matter when you choose to use your acupressure mat, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and take regular breaks to avoid overstimulation. Remember, the goal is to achieve balance and not overload your system.
How Long Should You Stay On An Acupressure Mat?
The amount of time you should stay on an acupressure mat will vary depending on your individual needs and preferences. Some people may benefit from a few minutes of use, while others may find longer sessions (20-30 minutes) more beneficial.
Generally speaking, we recommend starting with shorter sessions (5-10 minutes) and gradually increasing the time as your body becomes more accustomed to the pressure. To avoid overstimulation, it’s important to take regular breaks and to listen to your body.
If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop the session immediately.
How To Use An Acupressure Mat
Follow these steps to use your acupressure mat:
- Place the mat on a flat surface and make sure it’s secured.
- Sit or lie down comfortably on the mat and make sure all of your body is making contact with the spikes.
- You can also stand on it while barefoot; however, make sure to hold onto something for balance.
- Use your hands to adjust the pressure level by pressing down on certain areas if needed.
- Close your eyes and take deep breaths, focusing on relaxation.
- Start with shorter sessions and gradually increase the time as your body becomes used to the pressure.
- Take regular breaks and adjust the pressure accordingly.
- After the session, don’t just get up immediately. Take a few moments to enjoy the relaxation and calmness before you get off the mat.
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What Are The Acupressure Mat Side Effects?
Acupressure mats are generally considered to be safe, with no serious side effects reported.
However, some people may experience mild discomfort or irritation. To avoid any adverse reactions, it is important to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer and start slowly with light pressure until your body becomes accustomed to the sensation.
In some cases, people may experience temporary bruising and soreness in areas where the mat was used. This is generally not a cause for concern and should subside within a few days. If the pain does not improve or worsens, you should discontinue use and consult a doctor.
Some people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, vascular problems, and circulation issues may be at an increased risk of developing skin irritation, blisters, or nerve damage from the mat (2).
It is important to speak with your doctor before using an acupressure mat if you have any existing medical conditions.
Additionally, pregnant women should avoid using an acupressure mat as the pressure and stimulation could potentially be dangerous by inducing labor (2). If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your doctor before using an acupressure mat.
Finally, it is important to avoid using the mat if you have any open wounds or skin lesions. Obviously, direct pressure to the affected area could cause further damage. In this case, you should consult your doctor who may be able to recommend alternative treatments for pain relief.
How To Choose The Best Acupressure Mat?
The best acupressure mat should be based on your needs, experience, and budget. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting an acupressure mat:
Size And Portability
Smaller mats are more convenient for travel, but larger mats may offer better coverage.
Number Of Spikes
The higher the number of spikes, the more intense the sensation.
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Look for a mat made of lightweight, non-toxic materials that won’t irritate the skin. Good quality mats are usually made of eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo.
Buckwheat hulls are also popular, as they can be easily adjusted to provide different levels of pressure.
Size And Shape Of Spikes
The size and shape of the spikes will determine how intense the pressure is. Different mats may have flat or round-tipped spikes, so make sure to look for the one that best matches your needs.
Ensure the mat has good stitching and tight loops that won’t come undone easily.
If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of good quality mats available at reasonable prices. Beware of cheaper mats that may not be made of the best materials, as these can cause skin irritation.
Look for a company with good customer service, including warranties and return policies.
Many acupressure mats come with extra features such as straps and carrying pouches, which can make them more convenient to use.
The Bottom Line
Acupressure mats offer a safe and natural way to reduce pain and stress. However, it is important to follow the instructions carefully and start slowly with light pressure. If you have any existing medical conditions or are pregnant, consult your doctor before using an acupressure mat.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Acupressure effect on sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis (2018, pubmed.gov)
- Acupuncture contraindications (n.d., physio-pedia.com)
- Acupuncture or acupressure for pain management during labour (2020, nih.gov)
- Beyond Pills: Acupressure Impact on Self-Rated Pain and Anxiety Scores (2019, nih.gov)
- Contemporary acupressure therapy: Adroit cure for painless recovery of therapeutic ailments (2017, nih.gov)
- Does relaxation on a bed of nails (spike mat) induce beneficial effects? A randomized controlled pilot study (2011, researchgate.net)
- Effect of acupressure and trigger points in treating headache: a randomized controlled trial (2010, nih.gov)
- Efficacy of an Acupressure Mat in Association with Therapeutic Exercise in the Management of Chronic Low Back Pain: A Prospective Randomized Controlled Study (2021, mdpi.com)
- The Effects of Acupressure on Pain Severity in Female Nurses with Chronic Low Back Pain (2017, nih.gov)