At first glance, an acupressure mat may not look super safe. These foam mats are covered with thousands of sharp plastic needles. Many people are naturally concerned that using one will be painful or even dangerous.
Although the concept of an acupressure mat can seem strange, they’re actually perfectly safe when used according to instructions. Here’s a complete look at what acupressure mats are, what problems they treat and how to use them safely:
Acupressure mats are foam mats, usually about the size and thickness of a yoga mat. Except instead of a flat surface, acupressure mats are covered with thousands of short needles made from hard plastic. While the needles aren’t sharp enough to pierce the skin, you’ll definitely feel them.
So, how do plastic needles help your health? An acupressure mat is just one way to perform acupressure therapy. Acupressure therapy is a holistic health practice which has been used around the world for thousands of years.
Basically, acupressure involves manipulating various pressure points on the body. Small, specific locations are pressed. There are numerous ways to apply acupressure including using the fingers, elbows, massage equipment and, of course, an acupressure mat.
Acupressure is an ancient Asian bodywork therapy which is based on the idea of chi energy flowing through pathways inside the body. Chi is the body’s life force. It flows through the body along 12 major meridians, which are networks throughout your body.
If a meridian is blocked, illness and disease can occur. Pressing corresponding pressure points on the body helps to unblock the chi, allowing it to flow freely. Restoring balance to the meridians is said to release tension, increase blood flow and otherwise provide a variety of health benefits.
Western medicine generally believes that manipulating certain pressure points on the body does have health benefits. But they don’t attribute any of these benefits to chi and meridians. Instead, most western medical specialists think these treatments work because they help the brain manipulate pain signals, improve blood circulation and reduce muscle tension.
If you’re familiar with acupuncture, the concepts of meridians, chi and pressure points probably sounds familiar. That’s because acupressure and acupuncture have the same underlying philosophies.
But there are some key differences between the two. Although acupuncture is safe when performed by a trained professional, many people simply don’t like needles. Non-invasive acupressure treatments can be the more comfortable option.
Additionally, acupuncture can only be performed by a trained professional. You can’t just learn a bit about the practice online and start inserting needles into yourself. However, acupressure doesn’t have the same risks. As long as you take proper precautions, you can manipulate pressure points yourself. The ease of at-home acupressure treatments is often a major driver of acupressure sales.
Acupressure is so popular because the techniques can be used to treat an impressively wide range of health problems. Pain relief is one of the most common uses of acupressure. Regular treatments can reduce:
Gastrointestinal issues can also be treated with acupressure. Pressure point formulas exist which reduce nausea, motion sickness, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome and more. Acupressure mats are often a great way to stay healthy when traveling, because they’re lightweight and easy to carry.
Along with physical issues, acupressure also treats a variety of emotional and mental issues. Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, stress and similar “invisible” issues have all shown improvement after acupressure. Proponents of acupressure even use the treatments to help addiction recovery and learning disorders.
Understanding how energy flows through the body can require decades of study. But a basic overview is actually pretty simple. Here are the eight most common acupressure points:
Also called Gallbladder 20, this point is located where the neck muscles attach to the skull. First locate your ear bone and follow the groove back to the neck. Applying pressure to this point helps treat headaches, blurry vision, low energy and cold symptoms.
Called Gallbladder 21, this point is accessed by pinching your shoulder muscle with your thumb and middle finger. This creates an energy loop which helps reduce toothaches, headaches and neck pain. Pregnant women should avoid this acupressure point (additional pregnancy risk information is below).
This is the Large Intestine 4. Manipulating this pressure point also helps with head and neck pain. Also a great stress reliever. This is also another point which should be avoided by pregnant women, as it could induce labor.
This Liver 3 point is located in the sole of your foot. Helps treat low back pain, insomnia, stress and high blood pressure.
The Pericardium point is located on your wrist about four fingers below the base of your hand. Helps provide relief for stomach issues, nervousness, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome.
This Tripler Energizer point is located in-between the ring and pinky finger, in the tendons behind the knuckles. Manipulating this point helps remove tension from the shoulders, neck and upper back.
This Spleen point is located on the inside of the leg, about four fingers from the ankle, inside the depression underneath the bone. Massaging this point helps treat pelvic and urological disorders. Also helps soothe menstrual cramps. This is another pressure point which should be avoided during pregnancy.
Located below the knee on the outer part of the leg, this Stomach pressure point helps increase energy while reducing both leg pain and gastrointestinal issues. Some Asian cultures also believe this point helps increase lifespan.
As you can see, many of these points on the body don’t have an obvious connection to the type of treatment provided. This is why developing acupressure treatments can be confusing, and often requires a professional. Still, you can gain a basic understanding of what areas to target based on what results you want to achieve. This can help you use your acupressure mat effectively.
Acupressure needles are sharp, and can be slightly painful at times, but they should never break your skin. If any of the plastic needles pierce your skin, stop using that acupressure mat immediately. Contact the manufacturer for a refund and don’t order a second product. Fortunately, almost all acupressure mats – especially the larger, mainstream brands – use plastic needles which can’t break the skin.
However, even the highest quality acupressure mats can potentially cause injury if used incorrectly. Your body needs time to slowly adapt to the sensation. If you’ve never used an acupressure mat, or it’s been a while since you have, you’ll want to follow this three-step plan to using an acupressure mat.
Place the mat on a sofa or chair, so it touches both your back and buttocks when you sit. You’ll likely feel an invigorating stinging sensation but shouldn’t feel any overwhelming pain. This placement distributes pressure and gently introduces your back and lower legs to the feel of the mat. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes at a time but stop if you experience persistent pain.
Next, you’ll start adding pressure by placing the mat across the seating area of a couch. Now you can place your entire back directly against the mat. The couch cushions provide springy support. You’ll increase the time here to between 20 and 45 minutes.
Finally, advanced users move the acupressure mat from the couch to a harder floor. By removing any cushion except what’s provided by the thin foam, you’ll feel the full intensity of the acupressure needles. By the time you’re comfortable on this type of mat placement, you should be able to lie down for 45 minutes or more.
The first few times using an acupressure mat can feel kind of weird, and they’re not really a good representation of what long-term acupressure mat use is like. The first five minutes or so might feel kind of harsh. You likely won’t feel a stabbing motion, but instead a scratchy, coarse sensation.
Soon enough, that initial feeling will turn into feelings of soothing warmth similar to an icy/hot balm. As you continue to use the mat over days and weeks, you’ll feel increasingly more comfortable for longer periods of time.
After using the mat, your back might be red and stiff. While it’s not the greatest feeling in the world, usually discomfort is minimal and doesn’t last long. When this initial soreness subsides, you’ll feel much less pain.
Following the process above lets your body slowly ease into using the acupressure mat for the long term. However, even with proper use you’ll likely still experience some discomfort, odd sensations and skin redness. As long as these issues are minor and short-lasting, they’re usually nothing to worry about.
When performed properly, acupressure therapy is generally very safe. However, you’ll want to avoid treatments if you have any of the following medical conditions:
Acupressure affects the circulatory system, so it can be dangerous for individuals with high blood pressure, bleeding disorders and other circulatory issues. Also avoid acupressure if you’re taking any blood-thinning medication (although aspirin is okay).
Avoid using an acupressure mat on any areas with burns, infections or other skin irritations. Also check with your doctor before using if you have any type of cancer, including skin cancer, or tumors.
If you have a history of seizures, you can still use an acupressure mat. However, you want to make sure you never use the mat alone, without supervision from a friend or workout partner.
If you’re pregnant, consult with your doctor before using any acupressure techniques. Many pressure points, especially in the hands and feet, can be used to induce labor. You don’t want to accidentally stimulate uterine contractions early, as that can pose a variety of risks. Additionally, avoid manipulating any pressure points in the lower torso, which can accidentally cause fetal damage.
Before using any type of acupressure therapy during pregnancy, consult with your doctor. Remember, there’s no official agency which offers credentials for acupressure practitioners. However, many states regulate acupressure therapists by requiring coursework through massage therapy schools.
Many other massage and manipulative therapies compliment acupressure treatments. Starting treatment with a therapeutic massage relaxes muscles, which allows for better access to the acupressure points. When those points can be reached at a deeper level, the results tend to last longer. Acupressure is also often used alongside chiropractic procedures.
Tai chi, qi gong and other ancient martial arts practices incorporate a variety of different pressure points. Plus, the breathing techniques and mind-body focus of these practices can be useful when using an acupressure mat.
As long as you follow all recommended guidelines, acupressure mats are very safe and effective. Remember to ease into using the mats, starting with short periods of time as your body becomes accustomed to the sensations. You might experience some temporary redness and soreness, but that should go away after just a day or two.
Regular use of an acupressure mat can help treat chronic pain, reduce stress and promote a great sense of well-being.