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Back pain, Chronic Pain, Health

Acupressure Mats: Fad or Effective?

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Acupressure matWe have a bit of a different blog post from us here. Instead of the usual effective rehab exercises and advice, we decided to take a close look at Acupressure mats or Shakti mats, a product that is regularly used to ease pain and stress.

Over the last couple of years Acupressure mats, often known as Shakti mats, have massively increased in popularity so we decided to find out whether it is all smart marketing or a great drug-free pain reliever.

Acupuncture and acupressure have been used for over 2000 years in eastern medicine but only for the last hundred years have they been embraced among Western health professionals and with this, has come research into just how acupressure and acupressure mats help.

What is an Acupressure Mat

An acupressure mat is a soft foam mat covered in hundreds and thousands of little spikes. It is effectively a modern-day bed of nails with spines placed specifically really close together so that you can lie your bodyweight on them without breaking the skin.

There are acupressure mats (Shakti mats) for the body, neck, back and even feet and can all be a little painful to start with. For most people starting using an acupressure mat with a shift on is a good idea.

To summarize, they are spiky, uncomfortable mats that make you feel surprisingly good afterwards. We are going to go into how this is possible, below.

What exactly do Acupressure Mats do

There are a lot of claims out there (as for most things) as to what acupressure mats help. These range from stress and pain relief to improved healing and weight loss! So we thought we would go through all these claims and try and figure out from the evidence and a little research, how and if acupressure mats do help.

Stress Management: True.

One of the biggest effects acupressure has is to stimulate the release of serotonin. By applying pressure, this stimulates our body into releasing this in a way that is basically our body going “ow that hurts, I’m going to make myself feel better”. serotonin is our bodies feel-good hormone and plays a big part in regulating mood and decreasing stress and anxiety.

Blood Circulation: True

Local blood flow is stimulated to the area. Similar to if you get a massage and afterwards the skin is redder, the tissue warmer etc. This can help to boost healing and recovery, particularly after running or sports events.

Digestion: True.

Serotonin comes in again here as serotonin plays a big part in your digestive system. It helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting.

Weight Loss: Maybe.

Through improving digestion and gut movement as above, the release of serotonin stimulated by acupressure mats could help regulate body weight

Nausea: False.

It depends which part of your body is stimulated but acupressure can actually cause nausea at times

Cold/Flu: Unsure.

We could not find any solid research that shows that acupressure mats help recover from sickness but some acupressure points in the neck can help with sinus relief etc.

Constipation: True.

Serotonin again, as per above helps regulate gut movement so could definitely help with this

Brain Functions: True

Through the release of serotonin and natural painkillers, brain function is improved in terms of mood at least. Acupressure has been shown to help with depression and mental state.

Pain Relief: True.

The other big way that acupressure mats, acupressure and acupuncture help is in their pain relieving ability. After 15-20 minutes of lying on an acupressure or Shakti mat, our spinal cord and brainstem release natural opioid painkillers

Relaxation: True

Give both mental and physical relaxation to your body

Examples of research:

This study shows how acupressure is more effective than muscle relaxant therapy from headaches, and this lasted for 6 months

This one shows that acupressure can give an immediate improvement in anxiety levels

Conclusion

Acupressure Mats are not something to be ignored if you have chronic pain, stress and anxiety, trouble sleeping or want to do everything you can to help recover faster. There is definitely some scientific reasoning and research backing up its use although not all research is conclusive or agrees.

Try it for yourself, and let us know – there’s plenty to chose from on Amazon.


Chronic Pain

Chronic pain – All in my head?

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Your central nervous system plays a massive role in ongoing and chronic pain, Here we will discuss why patients are often told pain is in their head and how you can help it train your brain.

chronic pain - is it in my head? - explained and how to fix itPain is subjective, meaning every single person responds to and feels it differently. This is because the pain receptors (nocioceptors) around your body sense something going on and send the signal up to your brain. How the brain processes/perceives this signal depends on a combination of things:

  • Gender: Hormones can affect perceived pain.
  • Family: How you were taught to react to pain as a child.
  • Past experience: The degree of pain felt in the past and how traumatic it was changes how your brain reacts to pain, for example.
  • Mood: Your mental state can affect how you feel pain. Things such as sadness, depression can increase pain perception. Be aware that it can also happen the other way around!

This is why there is a huge variety of pain tolerances in our society – the varying upbringings and experiences that occur in everyone’s lives.

Chronic pain and you:

Chronic pain is pain that exists after an acute injury has healed or after the normal tissue healing time (generalized to 3 months). For one reason or another reason, the injury does not fully heal (this could be because of some overlooked contributing factor but often for unknown reasons) and the nerve fibers continue to send pain signals up to the brain. With all these signals shooting up to the brain telling it that there is something bad going on, the brain begins to accept these like they are a normal thing, improving the pain pathways, making them more efficient. This results in more pain. Also along with this the chemical messengers that are used in the pain network increase and over time the threshold (how much stimulus is needed) for pain lowers.

Put more simply, with the continued and increased pain signals the brain gets used to them, think of them as normal and becomes more sensitive to them so a smaller and less intense stimulus is needed to feel pain! This is called Central Sensitization.

This is why people are often told that “it is in your head” and yes your brain is definitely contributing to your pain because it has become more sensitive but ALL PAIN IS REAL.

So how can we mitigate the effects of chronic pain and reduce the pain? Try some of these steps:

  1. Relax: Stress and tension will increase pain so practice relaxation techniques – these are easy and can reduce pain by up to 50%. There are multiple options here, find something that works for you! e.g. relaxation.
  2. Keep active: Physical activity boosts endorphins (natural pain-killer), boosts the immune system and helps get your body stronger!
  3. Get serious about rehabbing yourself – find out what you need to do from a Physio that will find your deficits and get to it, regularly and you will improve.
  4. Find appropriate healthcare providers e.g. a doctor that specializes in pain management, a psychologist and a physiotherapist that not only looks at your injury but you as a person.
  5. Eat healthy and don’t over indulge (no overeating, excess alcohol or tobacco consumption).
  6. Drink enough water: Females over 2 litres and men over 2.5 liters.
  7. Get enough sleep: Infants need about 16 hours per day, teenagers need about 9 and for most adults 7 to 8 hours a day is the best amount.
  8. Positive: Get social support by going to events etc that you enjoy(sports, music, dancing etc.) and keep positive people around you, not negative.

Remember all pain is real and everyone experiences it in a different way and most importantly it is NOT something you have to live with. It can be helped and improved.

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