Acupuncture and acupressure are ancient remedies for pain relief and healing. They are originally Eastern medicine concepts that target the body’s pressure points in order to activate the natural healing ability of the body.
Acupuncture is a more direct way of stimulating the pressure points. It uses thin, flexible needles to target discomfort. Acupressure is a less invasive method of healing, relying on external pressure point stimulation to activate the body’s natural healing.
Today we will be discussing acupressure mats and reviewing the best options for runners. We will examine the science behind acupressure, and how to use a mat with the greatest effect if you decide to buy one.
Let’s get right into it!
What is an acupressure mat?
An acupressure mat—also called a Needle Stimulation Pad or NSP—is a modern version of the ancient “bed of nails”. The bed of nails theory originates in India, the first version of which—a bed of arrows—comes from an ancient Sanskrit poem written between 400 and 200 BCE.
An acupressure mat is a little less daunting than a bed of nails. It is a flat mat covered with small plastic spikes. They are designed to be a less direct and intense way of stimulating your own pressure points in the comfort of your own home.
Acupressure mats come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. You can also get acupressure pillows if you want to target your neck and head specifically, as well as foot mats.
How do acupressure mats work?
Acupressure was—and still is—widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed to open energy channels by clearing blockages, allowing the body’s natural energy to flow freely and heal aches, discomfort, and even diseases.
In modern alternative or complementary medicine, acupressure focuses on four ways of stimulating the pressure points: static pressure, kneading, rubbing, and tapping. An acupressure mat is an easy and convenient way of stimulating your pressure points using static pressure.
The small spikes on the acupressure mat are designed to place pressure on many pressure points at once, in an easy way that doesn’t require a second person to be present. They are also meant to improve circulation slightly by stimulating the surface of the skin, similar to the effects of a foam roller.
Because the spikes are small and your weight is distributed evenly across all of them, there is little chance of them puncturing the skin.
But lying on an acupressure mat may still cause some pain, as the spikes are hard plastic and your skin may be unaccustomed to the pressure.
Top 3 Best and Favorite
ProsourceFit Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set
HemingWeigh Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set
MAYYOSURU Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set
What are the benefits of an acupressure mat? How can they help runners?
Often when running, your body finds the most comfortable way to move—natural running form. The more you run, the more you’ll settle into this running form. Most runners won’t alter their form until something hurts, either during the run or afterwards.
You may find that on the day, your hips just don’t have enough range of motion or that your hamstrings and calves are just really tight. This will throw your running form off, which can lead to muscle aches or possible injuries.
Using the acupressure mat can help to release the tension in the hamstrings and calves. Do this by sitting on top of it with your legs stretched out in front of you. To release the tension in the hip flexors and quads, you’d lie face down with the mat beneath your lower body.
Your body weight applies the pressure needed for the acupressure points to effectively release tension. It will also stimulate blood circulation, which will get more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. Getting rid of metabolic waste with better circulation improves muscle recovery.
Lying on the mat for 10 to 20 minutes after running will also help with delayed-onset muscle soreness—DOMS.
The best part about having an acupressure mat is that it can also be used after a long day in the office, where you may have spent most of your day sitting.
Small studies have shown that acupressure mats can reduce back pain, neck pain, and headaches.
Are they for real?
There isn’t much hard scientific evidence to suggest that acupressure mats offer the same benefits as an acupressure massage therapist would be able to provide. Not many studies have been conducted on the subject, so there is still room for research.
Although there is no scientific proof of acupressure mats having great benefit, the few studies that have been done indicate that there is some merit to using them. In many cases, participants claim to experience pain relief after using one.
One study suggests that the pain caused by the mat may activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which could lead to pain relief via a release of endorphins. It noted that once participants had relaxed after the initial pain response, their blood pressure was higher, their heart rate was slower, the heart rate frequency—HRV—was high and there were noticeable signs of increased circulation.
Another study concluded that no statistical evidence could be found to back up the participants’ verbal feedback. Over a period of 3 weeks with 15 minutes of daily use of the acupressure mat, participants reported a reduction in pain intensity but no change in energy levels or sleep quality.
Both studies cite the need for further research, but both agree that the use of an acupressure mat appears to have no negative effects.
That said, many users of acupressure mats state that they feel benefits. Even if this could be attributed to a placebo effect, it is apparent that many individuals do get benefits from using an acupressure mat.
How should you use an acupressure mat?
It is important to understand that you are likely to feel pain and discomfort when you start using an acupressure mat. You may only feel the benefits once you get off the mat.
In order to use the acupressure mat as safely and effectively as possible, first make sure it’s laid out on an appropriate surface. Placing the mat on a bed can help to reduce the initial pain caused by the plastic pressure spikes. Once you are used to the feeling, it is better to use the mat on the floor.
If you want to target your lower back, glutes and thighs more, you can lay the mat on a chair and sit on it. A softer chair would work best for beginners, and you can move to a harder chair when you are used to the sensation.
Anyone new to using an acupressure mat may also find that wearing a thin layer between their skin and the plastic points can help to reduce the pain. When you feel comfortable, you can lie or sit on the mat with bare skin.
Here’s how you would go about getting into position on the acupressure mat:
- Lower yourself slowly and gently onto the mat by sitting or lying down onto it.
- Try to do this in a straight line so that both sides of your body land on the mat evenly, distributing your weight properly without favoring one side.
- If you need to reposition yourself, sit up again and start all over. Trying to move while lying down can scratch your skin painfully.
- Stay in the same position for 10 to 20 minutes. When you are finished, sit up slowly and make sure not to lean your hands behind you to help you up, or you may hurt them on the mat.
For beginners, try to spend 10 minutes on the mat. Once you are used to it, you can lie on the mat for up to 20 minutes. Using it for longer than 20 minutes will not incur any additional benefits.
1. ProsourceFit Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set
This is a set that consists of an acupressure mat and an acupressure pillow. Between them, they have almost 8,000 pressure points.
You can choose from two different designs—natural and original. The natural version is made from natural linen filled with coconut fibers, and has a softer pillow. The original version is made of cotton and eco-friendly foam, and comes with a firmer pillow.
The natural mat is larger than the original: 29 inches x 18 inches versus 25 inches x 15 inches. It is recommended that you don’t machine wash or tumble dry the mat, even though you can remove the cover for cleaning. This may damage the plastic pressure points.
The acupressure mat comes with a convenient carry bag so you can get the benefits of acupressure anywhere you go.
- Up to 8,000 acupressure points
- Made from natural materials
- 2-piece design
- Two sizes available
- Not machine washable, so it can be hard to clean
2. HemingWeigh Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set
The HemingWeigh Acupressure Mat and Pillow set is made of non-toxic, environmentally-friendly cotton, high-density foam and hypoallergenic plastic pressure points. Almost 9,000 pressure point spikes cover as much surface area as possible.
Taller users may find that the mat doesn’t target the lower back and shoulders at the same time. If this is the case, you may have to use it twice, one time targeting each section. Or, you can place the pillow under your lower back – but it may be too high to be comfortable.
It comes with a handy carry bag, but it can be difficult to fold up and get into the bag due to the multiple plastic discs with spikes.
- Hypoallergenic pressure points
- Up to 8,820 spikes
- Made from environmentally friendly foam
- Easy to clean
- Some people may find the length of the mat to be too short to target shoulders and lower back at the same time
Best Combo Set
3. MAYYOSURU Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set
This set is ideal for runners who want a variety of products to assist in speeding up recovery. It comes with an acupressure mat, pillow, massage stick and two massage balls. They all fit comfortably inside the large carry bag.
The mat and pillow are environmentally friendly, as the covers are made of pure cotton. The pillow is filled with buckwheat husks and the mat is filled with coconut fibers. Ergonomically designed lotus-shaped plastic pressure points are made from non-toxic, surgical-grade plastic.
A set such as this is extremely versatile. You can get the benefits of the acupressure mat but also target more specific pain points by using the ball for firmer, more direct pressure. The massage stick will help for rolling tension out of muscles. You will not be able to use them at the same time as you are using the mat.
- Comes with a massage stick and two spike balls
- Made from eco-friendly materials
- Ergonomically designed spikes
- Spikes are made from surgical plastic
- Some may find the pillow to be too soft to get the benefits of the pressure point spikes
Most Eco-Friendly Design
4. TimeBeeWell Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set
This acupressure set looks robust and comes with a mat, pillow and carry bag for easy transportation. The uniquely shaped pressure spikes and half-moon shaped pillow are designed to be as ergonomic as possible, stimulate circulation, and reduce muscle tension and pain.
If you prefer eco-friendly products, the TimeBeeWell has a breathable cover manufactured from natural cotton, and HIPS medical-grade plastic spikes. The foam base is made of recycled material and every part is non-toxic, making this one of the most environmentally friendly acupressure mats.
Unlike many others, this mat and pillow come with a 3-year manufacturer’s warranty.
- Made from plant-based ECO-foam
- Ergonomic half-moon shaped pillow
- HIPS medical-grade lotus-shaped spikes
- 3-year manufacturer’s warranty
- Some individuals may find that the pillow is too high to be comfortable
Best for Back Pain
5. Bed of Nails Acupressure Mat
This acupressure mat is large enough for most people to cover the entire back in one use—28.5 inches x 16.5 inches. It is also FDA registered. The original Bed of Nails acupressure mat was designed and made in Sweden and brought to the USA in 2009.
8,820 small, non-toxic plastic spikes cover a large surface area on your back and stimulate the release of endorphins, relieving pain. They also help improve circulation, getting the blood flowing more effectively and bringing white blood cells to areas of inflammation to help reduce pain and swelling.
If you wish to use an acupressure pillow as well you will need to buy one separately, as this is not a set.
- 8,820 hypoallergenic plastic nails
- Ergonomic design
- Easy to clean material
- Products are FDA registered
- You will need to purchase a pillow separately if you want to use one