Got back ache? Who doesn’t! Writer Clemmie Millbank decided to do something about her ‘tech neck’… by lying on a bed of nails.
We’ve had nearly two years of sitting on unsupportive kitchen chairs, balancing our laptops on ironing boards and squinting at poorly calibrated screens. So, it’s no surprise that so many of us are still suffering with ‘tech neck’, back pain, headaches and insomnia – myself included.
I spend the majority of my week working from home (bouncing between sofa and dining table) and the rest carting around two small children, along with their collection of snacks, toys and changes of clothes. The result? My shoulders and back are almost continually sore, I regularly pop paracetamol for stress headaches and I sometimes lie awake until the early hours willing myself to go back to sleep.
Clearly, that’s not ideal. So, when I saw ‘bed of nails’, or acupressure mats, popping up again and again in my Instagram feed, I decided to give them a try – after all, how challenging can having a lie down be?
What’s the point of an acupressure mat?
Raved about by celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears and Miranda Kerr, acupressure mats are one of the fastest growing wellness trends around. Roughly the size of a hand towel and lightly padded, an acupressure mat features hundreds of plastic spikes which users lie, sit or stand on to stimulate different pressure points.
“In Chinese medicine theory, Qi, or life force, travels through the body in meridians, which are like highways,” explains Stefanie DiLibero, New York acupuncturist and founder of Gotham Wellness. “There are certain stops along the ‘highways’ where the energy accumulates and can be more easily accessed. These are the acupuncture/acupressure points. Treating these points helps to balance one’s energy so that the body can function optimally.”
Unlike acupuncture, acupressure does not penetrate the skin. Instead, your weight is evenly distributed across the spikes, which stimulate your muscles to encourage circulation, release tension and promote the production of endorphins to counter the (hopefully, mild) pain.
Although the science around acupressure remains complicated and still unproven, the five-star reviews speak for themselves, with many users claiming their headaches fade, their back pain is alleviated and they fall asleep almost straight away – sometimes, quite literally, on the mat. “An at-home acupressure practice is an excellent way to mindfully check in and connect with yourself and to soothe your nervous system,” confirms DiLibero.
How to choose an acupressure mat
There are several different types of acupressure mat to choose from. I quickly learned that beginners like me need to look for more spikes, so my weight can be distributed across more points, making the experience less intense. I chose the celeb-favourite Bed of Nails (BON) Eco mat, largely because if it’s good enough for Britney, then it’s good enough for me. It also features a whooping 8,820 spikes to encourage all those endorphins. Plus, the organic linen fabric and biodegradable coconut fibre filling make it a greener option too.
The acupressure mat challenge
Week 1: How does it feel?
My BON has arrived and after a day spent hunched over my laptop and barely stepping outside I am ready to try my spiky new tool. The instructions recommend first timers try it wearing a thin T-shirt, so I pop one on and prepare to lie down.
So, does it hurt? Honestly, yes, it does a bit. As I lie down and spread my weight across it, it is easy to see where the ‘bed of nails’ name comes from and it is tempting to sit straight back up again. I persevere and after a few minutes the nails transform into warm pins and needles; I’m still not sure it’s comfortable, but it’s not exactly unpleasant either. After seven minutes I sit up and my back has gone bright red and feels very tingly. Has it worked its magic? I don’t know, but I feel a slight rush from persisting through it.
My second visit to the mat comes after a yoga session and my muscles seem to almost sink into it. I try it with a bare back this time and although the spikes feel more pronounced, they are somehow more satisfying too. As my timer beeps to let me know my 10 minutes is up I actually feel reluctant to get off. I then ruin it all by taking a shower – a rookie error. The warm water on a freshly nailed back feels like stepping into a hot bath with sunburn. Not a mistake I’ll make again.
Week 2: Back on track
This week has been all about experimentation. On days where my back is feeling stiff and tired, I’ve been combining my lying-down mat sessions with a big snuggly blanket, plus a 10-minute Headspace meditation, which is definitely more relaxing than simply setting a timer and waiting for it to be over.
I’ve also been incorporating my mat into my working day, by draping it over the back of my chair. I keep my top on, so the feeling is less acute, but I find the little pressure points bring a greater awareness of my posture and I’m less inclined to slump. I occasionally like to work standing up and when I do this I’ll sometimes stand on the mat too. At first it feels akin to stepping on my son’s Lego bricks, but afterwards my feet almost feel like they’ve been treated to a massage.
Week 3: Nailed it
After my first session on the mat I was dreading three more weeks of what felt like pointlessly lying on the world’s most uncomfortable beach towel. But, in my final week, particularly on days when I’ve been hunched over my computer, I’ve found myself craving those little spikes in my back.
My shoulders are less achy and after a session on the mat my back feels noticeably looser and less rounded. I still have stress and anxiety headaches, but having dedicated time away from a screen has offered some relief and I am now contemplating an acupressure pillow too. I’ve also noticed myself sleeping better, although whether this is due to the mat or simply some time to myself I’m not sure, but either way I’m taking it as a win.
Acupressure mats – the verdict
While they are not a replacement for treatment from a healthcare professional, or a solution to a poorly set up WFH environment (I really need to invest in a proper office chair), acupressure mats can offer some relief for aching muscles. Crucially, they bring awareness to areas of concern and offer a mindful 10 minutes each day to check in with your body and work out some of those kinks and pockets of tension.
For more wellness experiments, check out the Strong Women Training Club.