When a massage is not possible, an acupressure mat can deliver similar results.
An acupressure mat, also sometimes called a needle stimulation pad (NSP), is covered with hundreds of plastic nubs. These small bulges deliver pressure to parts of the body in contact with the surface.
In this article, we will look at some of the research on acupressure mats and determine whether they are useful for treating specific ailments.
Acupressure is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique. Doctors consider TCM a form of alternative or complementary medicine.
Acupressure therapy is similar to acupuncture, but acupressure mats do not contain needles or puncture the skin.
As with acupuncture, acupressure involves stimulating pressure points near the body’s meridian or energy lines to allow chi (Qi), or energy, to flow freely.
Acupressure mat manufacturers claim that their products can provide relief for:
Scientific evidence on the effectiveness of acupressure mats is limited.
The studies that do exist have small sample sizes, and most claims regarding acupressure mats rely on anecdotal evidence.
Even though little research exists on the benefits of acupressure mats, they are an inexpensive, safe, and easy-to-use tool.
People who have a fear of needles may prefer acupressure therapy to acupuncture.
Keep reading for an overview of some of the research on the possible uses for acupressure and acupressure mats.
A 2011 study in Iran involving 72 students found that acupressure helped reduce menstruation-related pain. The researchers also observed that ibuprofen use decreased in those using acupressure to treat period pain and other menstrual symptoms.
The findings of a 2014 study on dental pain suggest that acupressure provides significant pain relief. Out of 60 participants, 46 people reported pain relief using self-administered acupressure therapy. Fewer people in the placebo group had lasting relief from dental pain.
In a 2012 study, researchers examined the effectiveness of acupressure mats on perceived pain in people with neck and lower back pain. A total of 82 people participated in the study. Those who used acupressure mats recorded significantly lower pain ratings than those in the control group. However, the study authors note that participants also continued other treatments alongside acupressure therapy.
A 2019 review and analysis of research found a link between acupressure and lower pain levels in people with cancer, compared with a control group. However, the researchers note that there is a need for additional studies to confirm this finding.
Participant diaries in a 2016 study on trigger point massage for tension headaches point to a decrease in headache frequency but not duration and intensity. Both the placebo and massage groups recorded the same results. The researchers caution that studies on headache pain that lack a placebo group risk overstating the effects of the studied intervention.
Participants who self-administered acupressure had a slight decrease in fatigue, but the control group also saw a decrease, albeit a smaller one.
Additional research from 2015 points to a link between acupressure treatment and an increase in quality sleep hours for older adults with Alzheimer’s disease. However, this study also had a small sample size.
In a 2020 review of research on acupressure for pain management during labor, the authors explain that the most recent evidence suggests that acupressure helps reduce this pain. However, they also note that the pain relief is not necessarily significant.
Although acupressure may provide some pain relief for people in labor, other strategies, such as ice massage, provide more significant pain reduction, according to a 2017 study.
There is evidence to suggest that applying pressure to certain acupressure points can induce labor. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid using an acupressure mat or having acupuncture before week 38 of pregnancy without speaking to a doctor first.
Pregnant women and people undergoing chemotherapy might benefit from using acupressure to treat vomiting and nausea.
However, pregnant women should speak to a doctor before using an acupressure mat and should also avoid lying on their abdomen.
Treatments similar to using an acupressure mat include:
- trigger point massage
- gua sha
People who do not find pain relief from acupressure or other alternative therapies should make an appointment with their doctor to discuss other options.
There are very few studies on the effectiveness of acupressure mats. Some people, however, may find relief with this type of alternative therapy.
More research on acupressure mats for pain relief is necessary to support the various claims that mat manufacturers have made. These mats are unlikely to cause people harm, though.
In most cases, people can use acupressure therapy without experiencing adverse effects. Pregnant women, though, should not use acupressure mats without speaking to a doctor.