Lying down on a bed of sharp needles certainly doesn’t sound like a good time – but more and more people are choosing to do so in order to improve their health. This latest health and beauty trend is called acupressure, and it involves the use of needle-covered mats. Fans of acupressure say it’s as effective as acupuncture but requires no special training or skin punctures.
Are acupressure mats a safe and effective way to boost your physical and mental health? Here’s your complete guide to all the potential health benefits of using an acupressure mat, as well as any potential risks.
Acupressure is similar to acupuncture. Only instead of inserting needles under the skin, acupressure needles press against your skin without piercing. Both acupressure and acupuncture focus on your body’s meridians.
Meridians are a concept which originated thousands of years ago, likely in China. Basically, the idea is that your body has 12 major channels, called meridians. These meridians connect networks of major organs.
These channels don’t correspond directly to any body systems found in Western medicine, such as the circulatory system or nervous system. Instead, the meridians weave throughout your body in an elaborate web of pressure points. An energy force called chi flows through the meridians.
If meridians become blocked, the chi can’t flow through the body as needed. This results in injury and illness. By manipulating the pressure points in the body, the chi flow can become unblocked, which allows the body to heal.
Western medicine generally does consider acupuncture and acupressure to have a variety of health benefits. However, western medicine pretty much tosses aside the concepts of meridians and chi. Instead, they believe stimulating pressure points causes the body to release pain-blocking dopamine while improving circulation.
Western acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to effectively treat pain, nausea and fatigue. Generally, Western application is less concerned with targeting pressure points as precisely as Eastern. Many insurance companies even cover acupuncture and acupressure treatments for physical therapy and other care.
Western medicine might be overly careful about the potential benefits of acupuncture and acupressure. Eastern medicine actually uses acupoint therapies to treat a much wider range of problems than Eastern.
Pain management is probably the most common reason people seek out these treatments. Acupoint treatment has shown lots of promise in people with chronic pain issues including:
Acupressure also helps treat a variety of gastrointestinal issues such as chronic stomach upset, diarrhea and nausea. Acupressure is quite popular among travelers looking to combat seasickness. You can find special acupressure wristbands which target pressure points in the underside of the wrist to ease symptoms of travel sickness.
Both Eastern and Western medicine agree that regular acupressure helps increase blood circulation throughout the body. Increased circulation improves skin ton, heart rate, organ function and more. Just as little as 20 minutes of acupressure a day can help improve the blood flow of your entire body.
Believe it or not, sleeping on a “bed of nails” can actually be pretty comfortable. Regular acupressure can help increase the quality of your sleep. Many people use acupressure techniques before bed, which helps reduce stress and create feelings of relaxation. While you probably don’t want to sleep on an acupressure mat all night long, you can move from the mat into bed as you start to feel drowsy.
Acupressure can be used during pregnancy, but you want to be careful. Many acupressure techniques have the potential to induce labor. So you only want to use those techniques if it would be safe for you to actually go into labor. The palms of the hands and souls of the feet contain pressure points related to labor induction.
Generally, avoid any acupressure in the lower torso area. Too much pressure can accidentally damage the fetus. While this is rare, it’s also not really a risk worth taking.
As with any type of medical or health treatment used during pregnancy, always first check with your doctor before beginning any acupuncture therapy. In many cases, acupressure can have useful benefits during pregnancy, such as reducing headaches and stomach aches. But you want to first make sure the treatments are safe.
Both acupressure and acupuncture focus on the same pressure points. So, is one technique better than the other? There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
Because the needles go under the skin, acupuncture is able to stimulate the pressure points more directly. In many cases, substantial results will occur faster with acupuncture than acupressure. However, acupuncture is a specialized technique which requires a trained professional. You have to hire a trained acupuncturist for a session, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
Plus, acupuncture is invasive. While a professional acupuncturist will use FDA-approved acupuncture needles to help ensure complete safety, some people prefer an option which is less, well, pokey. Acupressure is a gentler alternative.
You’ll often get the best results from an acupressure session performed by a qualified professional. Much like with acupuncture, a professional acupressurist has advanced knowledge of which pressure points and meridians to target in order to alleviate your specific symptoms. However, unlike acupuncture, you can also perform many acupressure techniques yourself at home.
Applying basic acupressure to yourself is normally pretty safe, as long as you’re not pregnant and have no major medical issues. You can massage pressure points using your fingers.
Use a deep, firm pressure. Move your fingers either in a rotation or an up-and-down movement. Massage the pressure point area for about three or four minutes at a time.
During the massage, sit in a comfortable position. Focus on breathing deeply and slowly. Many people prefer to close their eyes and enter a meditative type of state.
Self-applied acupressure message is certainly easy to apply and requires no special equipment. But its effectiveness can be limited. Many people interested in the long-term benefits of acupressure prefer to use an acupressure mat instead of just their own fingers.
Acupressure mats are thin foam mats with thousands of short, sharp nails. The mats are sometimes referred to as a bed of nails, although here that term is used at least partially tongue-in-cheek. Instead of metal nails which can pierce skin, the nails on an acupressure mat are made from a hard plastic which is only sharp enough to press into, not through, skin.
About a dozen needles are typically arranged in a small circle. Each mat is then covered in small circles. The average mat has about 6,000 needles or more.
Many mats also include a headrest, which also contains circles of therapeutic needles. You can rest your head, neck or even parts of your face against the rest in order to produce various benefits.
The safest way to use an acupressure mat involves three stages. You want to start slow and ease your body into extended use of the mat. This allows your skin time to adjust and build up a tolerance to the sometimes-uncomfortable sensations.
First, drape the mat against the inner back and seat of a chair, preferably a padded one. Then sit on the chair. The needles should press lightly into your buttocks, thighs, back and shoulders. Remain seated for 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll do this for a few days until you feel comfortable.
For the next step, you’ll place the mat across the seating of a couch. Then you’ll lie down. This introduces heavier pressure to your entire back. At the same time, the couch provides a thick layer of cushion to help keep your back comfortable.
Finally, you’re able to safely use the mat on a harder surface, like a hardwood floor. This provides the least amount of cushion. You’ll definitely feel the acupressure needles against your skin. However, because you’ve taken the time to properly adjust to the mat, the feeling should be far more relaxing than painful.
During the first few uses, you’ll likely experience some soreness and redness. Typically, this only lasts for a brief period of time after using the mat. If any effects stick around for more than a day or two, you probably want to check with a doctor. But temporary, minor discomfort is common for anyone new to using an acupressure mat.
The quality of the acupressure mat will make a big difference in its effectiveness, comfort and durability. Always carefully consider the materials used.
The mat should be made from a breathable material like linen or natural cotton. Synthetic fabrics aren’t as breathable, which means they can become uncomfortably hot against the skin. The needles should be made from ABS plastic, which is a highly durable commercial-grade plastic.
Avoid any mats which use toxic glue to attach the needles. Over time, the glue is likely to wear loose. Plus, the smell of glue can be overwhelming when using a mat.
Finally, make sure your mat has a long warranty. Because using the mat is a multi-stage process, you won’t necessarily know if there’s a problem with the mat right away. Avoid 30 and even 60 days warranties in favor of more extensive coverage.
Mastering acupressure requires years of study, but you can learn the basics fairly easily. Understanding where common pressure points are located can help you use the acupressure mat more effectively. Depending on what issue you want to treat, you might want to stand, lie down or otherwise position yourself so the acupressure needles target specific areas of your body:
Many people use acupressure mats to treat back pain. If you suffer from chronic back pain, you’ll want to focus on the following pressure points:
If you want to treat illness or general injury, try standing on the mat. A pressure point is located between your first and second toe. Pressing this point helps promote healing. Additionally, massaging the length of your foot targets pressure points which helps reduce back pain and increase feelings of relaxation.
Absolutely! Regular use of acupressure mats helps provide relief from chronic pain, increases quality of sleep, helps boost mood and much more. Plus, acupressure mats are easy to use. Overall, these sharp mats can play an important role in staying healthy for life!