Blog Post

Are Acupressure Mats a Waste of Money?

JZ writes: "I purchased a Halsa Swedish acupressure mat in a local health store. The box said The Natural Alternative to pain relief medication. The insert said the mat has roots in India, where spike mats were first used about 5000 yrs ago by fakirs,and yogis. The mat has spikes in it to stimulate the body's acupressure points. I assume this is a New Age product. I lost $40 on the dumb mat. Have you heard of this? What a rip off, I'll stick to a regular pillow."

This product is not New-Age based, but is actually based on traditional Chinese medicine. Acupressure mats such as the model you describe is made of a mat which contain small disks containing anywhere from 6-8,000 spikes. The spikes are meant to apply pressure to key points on the surface of the skin that are said to stimulate the circulation of blood and the body's "life force" to aid healing. The concept is similar to that of acupuncture except spikes are used in place of needles.

Users are told to lay on the mats, which cost anywhere from $30 to $70, for 15 minutes a day.

In a review of the Halsa mats written by Laura Johannes for the Wall Street Journal, scientific support for the efficacy of these mats is lacking. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2011 found some benefits to the mats, but it was funded by a manufacturer of the product. It also relied on healthy participants so there was no way to determine any health benefits.

Another study of 36 sufferers of chronic neck and back pain, published in Alternative Medicine Studies, found that nail mats used for 15 minutes a day for three weeks reduced patients' peak levels of pain but failed to reduce their normal pain levels. It also was found to have no effect on depression, anxiety and sleep. This study was not funded by any company involved in selling mats.

"I tested a Shakti mat several times, with light clothes and on bare skin," Johannes reports. "At first, I felt a prickly sensation that was annoying, and my stress level went up. Stuffing a pillow under the mat to bring the spikes in contact with my neck felt good. By the third time, I was able to sink into the sensation and experience the spikes as a massage. While some sites suggest using the mats for foot reflexology, I found standing on it to be very uncomfortable."

Science is studying acupuncture/acupressure from a neuroscientific point-of-view rather than for its basis in traditional Chinese medicine. It is believed that acupuncture may cause the release of endorphins which are part of the body’s natural pain-control system; by stimulation of nerves in the spinal chord that release pain-suppressing neurotransmitters; or by the naturally occurring increase in blood flow in puncture areas that remove toxic substances. Scientists have arrived at no conclusions, however, and these studies are ongoing.

I'm sorry that you were ripped off, JZ, but thanks to you, we're able to publish this blog and spare others the same fate!