Should You Try Amazon’s Popular Acupressure Mat?
It depends. Here’s what an acupuncturist has to say about who would benefit from an acupressure mat.
Would I like to try to relax while lying on a bed of little plastic needles digging into every square centimetre of my back? Sure, I thought, when I heard about acupressure mats. After the year we’ve just been through (and the first weeks of 2021), it didn’t sound so bad.
I am no novice when it comes to painful beauty procedures (love the feeling of a wax strip ripping out hair from my skin) and really hard workout classes (love when my face turns purple at the end of Tracy Anderson’s in-studio class). So when I heard everyone talking about acupressure mats — a nylon mat covered in tiny plastic spikes — I was intrigued. My predominantly stagnant lockdown bod could use some needles to wake up slothy nerves back there. And once I learned about the mat’s supposed ability to reduce stress, promote relaxation, ease minor aches and relieve tension, the flat torture device became hard to resist.
I ordered this version by Tomshoo, which also includes a cylinder travel bag (though I’m not sure where I’d be toting a spiky mat to), a spiky pillow (can’t wait to plop my head done on that one), and two spiky balls for rolling out foot cramps (the most logical items in the bunch). My first reaction: the needles on the mat are sharper than I expected. Like the nails of brand new kittens that catch on everything from your shirt to your skin and can scratch the hell out of any visible piece of flesh.
I tested the mat by taking a light step on it first, which sort of took my breath away—not in a bad way, but not in a good way either. Then, wearing a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt (which is recommended for your first time), I lay down slowly, resting my head on the spiky pillow. I tried to stay put, as still as possible for the recommended 20-40 minutes. But I didn’t feel relaxed, didn’t feel like I would relax, and couldn’t help but think about the needles digging deeper into my spine. So I quit after five.
On Amazon Canada, this set has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars with nearly 400 reviews. Other similar acupressure mats have the same rating—between 4 and 5 stars, and up to 6000 reviews. Would I be the only one giving it a (generous) zero?
“Different people need different things, and different people respond better or worse to different interventions,” says Henry Claflin, registered acupuncture and East Asian medicine practitioner at Mindful Maelstrom Wellness Clinic in Toronto. The problem is you won’t know if you’ll respond well to an acupressure mat until you try. (If you respond well to acupuncture, that could be a good indicator.)
Acupressure mats haven’t been studied extensively for their potential health benefits, but they’re said to increase circulation throughout your entire body and help you de-stress. “The acupressure mat can stimulate the many nerves in your back, which feeds all the way up into your central nervous system, through the spinal cord and into your brain,” says Claflin. “And this can have systemic effects.”
Those benefits can include increasing blood flow, and for those who are super stressed, “getting your body back to a comfortable, relaxed state,” says Claflin. “Plus, with the mat, you’re just basically meditating or resting, which is also beneficial.”
Claflin uses the spiky balls for his feet. “I stand on one and within seconds, I can feel my nervous system turn off into a parasympathetic state, and my whole body can relax a little bit,” he says. “I roll my foot back and forth, which is the idea of reflexology—where you can treat your body through working with various parts of your feet.”
If you think the acupressure mat may work for you, Claflin does not suggest lying on it for more than 20 minutes. Some areas may start to get tender, and it may not be any more beneficial. It’ll feel (mildly) more comfortable at the 5- to 10-minute mark. “If you have one constant pressure anywhere in your body, after some time you’re not even going to be aware of it anymore unless you’re wiggling and moving around,” he says. And wearing a T-shirt is fine, as long as you can feel the spikes through it.
For me, I’m going to stick with my foam roller. With its smooth cushiony surface, and no minimum time requirement, it can work out kinks in my back and maybe even increase blood flow—no kitten claws necessary.