Back in August, I received this thing in the mail that looked like a yoga mat, except, instead of a smooth rubbery surface, it was covered in clusters of very sharp spikes. My first thought was, "WTF man — wellness never fails to go too far." Months later, though, I realized I'd been too quick to judge this strange little acupressure mat that, I would later learn, could do wonders for my back pain. Seriously guys, you know how you're taught growing up that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover? Well, I'm here to tell you that you also shouldn't judge a yoga mat by its surface — because, no joke, after lying on this thing for a few days, my back has never felt better.
To tell you the truth, I've been fortunate enough to have never really struggled with back pain throughout my life. However, during a yoga class earlier this month, I was in extended side angle pose when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in the right side of my back. I thought it would subside after a few moments with some deep breathing and adjustments, but instead, the pain kept getting worse throughout the class. I left the studio that day feeling pretty stressed out about the whole thing, but I figured I could probably sleep it off and see how I felt in the morning.
Well, when I woke up that next morning, my back pain was even worse. It felt like someone was casually stabbing me in my lower ribs every time I took a breath, and it was not a good time, guys. So, as any millennial with slight hypochondriacal tendencies might do, I furiously began googling possible diagnoses of my lumbar discomfort, and how to get rid of the pain ASAP.
Along with anti-inflammatories, ice, heat, and rest as remedies, I also stumbled upon acupressure on, like, the sixth page of my search results (yeah, I went that deep — judge me). So, I decided to dig out that weird, spiky mat I'd received in the mail and give it a try.
The truth is, acupressure mats aren't so weird after all, and they actually have so many benefits. Miscellaneous wellness trend: one. Georgina: zero.
“Acupressure mats are a great tool for people who struggle with back pain," Irina Logman, a certified acupuncturist and founder of Advanced Holistic Center in New York City, tells me over email. "When lying on your back, acupressure mats can help stimulate acupuncture points on the back that can help reduce back pain." Additionally, according to Verywell Health, acupressure mats can also help to relieve headaches, nausea, menstrual cramps, and general stress.
Now, you might assume this is all some earthy, hippie BS, but the entire concept of acupressure actually comes from Eastern medicine practices. To get an understanding of how these mats work, think about what you might know about acupuncture, aka a Chinese medicine-derived method that involves placing very thin needles into various, strategic points in the body to help relieve pain, stress, and to improve overall wellness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Having that knowledge is a good way to help you understand how acupressure mats work.
Having said that, there aren't any needles involved when you're using acupressure mats. Rather, the real difference between acupuncture and acupressure, Dr. Pooja Shah, a double board certified doctor of integrative and family medicine and the director of integrative medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, told Business Insider, is this: While acupuncture treatments target specific pressure points in your body to help soothe stress and pain, lying on an acupressure mat stimulates a wide surface area on your body (like my aching back, for instance) all at once, with a bunch of tiny, non-invasive spikes, thus reducing any pain you might feel. In Chinese medicine practices, according to Verywell Health, it's believed that the tiny little spikes covering the surface of the mat help to diffuse your "chi" (aka your energy), and as a result, it diminishes any discomfort you're experiencing.
And, no joke, that is precisely what happened when I tried lying on the Pranamat ECO mat for about 30 minutes. At first, I was kind of hesitant about the whole thing, particularly because of how incredibly sharp the spikes felt when I touched them. But it turns out that, with a thin t-shirt on, those little spikes actually feel amazing. I instantly felt at ease with the soothing, prickly sensation spreading across my back.
I even decided to get out a good book and read to pass the time on my mat, and soon enough, I'd literally forgotten all about my back pain.
According to Logman, this total-body sensation that I experienced was no coincidence. "There are specific points on the back that affect all the organs in your body, which will also help with overall well-being and boost one's energy," she tells Elite Daily. "Lying on your back is also a great way to relax the body, which can help improve your back pain."
I also made sure to practice deep, belly breathing techniques while lying on my acupressure mat, which Logman says is crucial, not just for helping your entire body relax, but also for encouraging your muscles to release their tension. "Incorporating essential oils and relaxing music is also a great way to help you relax," she adds. For me, reading could've played a part, too, because a good book never fails to calm me down.
I'll admit, I still have a bit of back pain as I'm writing this article, but it's nowhere near as intense as it was before I used my acupressure mat. With that said, I would definitely recommend giving acupressure a try if you deal with back pain, or even if you just want to experiment with the product to see if you reap any of those other health benefits I mentioned earlier. Personally, you better believe I'll be hopping on my mat during my next period.
Remember, though, acupressure mats are by no means a cure-all for whatever pain or discomfort you might be experiencing, and if this type of product doesn't seem to do much for you, it's definitely worth it to get assessed by a medical professional so you can find the best treatment for your back pain.
And, BTW, I'm totally aware of the fact that the mat I used is pretty pricey, and while I definitely encourage you to treat yourself to a Pranamat ECO product if you have the means to splurge on one, there are more affordable options you can try, like this ProSource Acupressure Mat and Pillow Set, which costs just $20, is highly rated by Amazon customers, and is eligible for Amazon Prime delivery. What a blessing, truly.