I know I'm not the only person who has been suffering from terrible back pain since the first national lockdown last March. With many of us forced to work from makeshift desks at home, we've had to do without our trusty ergonomic chairs and office risk assessments ensuring our postures are in check.
I have tried everything from desk stretches to foam rolling and nothing has helped. That is, until now. If you've seen Disney's Aladdin, you might remember an unnamed character who seemingly comes to a nasty end when he's squashed on a bed of nails by a rotund palace guard during the song "One Jump Ahead". The film may be fictional but the practice – lying on a bed of nails – is very real.
I am lying on a Shakti Mat, a padded acupressure mat which features 6,000 press points made from tiny plastic spikes (yes, really). Costing £49, the original mat comes in black, orange and green; there's also a yellow light mat for those with sensitive skin and a purple advanced mat for the more initiated. At first glance, the mat looks like a torture device you wouldn't wish to use on your worst enemy but it is said to have the opposite effect — once you get used to it.
The practice takes inspiration from an ancient Indian tradition which claims to support restful sleep, relaxation, mental clarity and wellbeing. In much the same way as acupuncture, the Shakti Mat's spikes apply pressure to points on your skin and the muscles underneath, be it your back, neck or even feet, stimulating the release of endorphins and a range of other calming hormones. The spikes also help increase the blood and lymph circulation in your body.
There is little research or compelling studies looking at the effects of acupressure mats specifically but there have been a number of studies on various forms of acupuncture. A 2010 study showed that acupuncture is more effective than muscle relaxant therapy in treating headaches, with the benefits lasting six months. Another study from 2015 found that acupuncture could give an immediate improvement in anxiety levels.
A third study, from 2012, which investigated the benefits of needle stimulation in patients with chronic neck and back pain, found "a substantial potential" for the alleviation of chronic pain, adding that the benefit of such treatment is "the fact that it is easy to use, safe, and does not require a therapist."
Since I have a pretty low pain threshold, I read a few reviews prior to using the mat to get a glimpse into how painful it really is. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most of them were positive, with many users advising wearing a thin T-shirt to really reap the benefits. However, when I first lay back on the mat, the pain was excruciating. My body wanted to squirm off but then, after a few minutes, my back began to tingle. It took some getting used to but once I settled, I forgot about the pain entirely. In fact, I got so used to it that I fell asleep.
The mat can also be used on your feet so while sitting at my desk, I rested my feet on the mat and allowed the spikes to work their magic. It's also particularly nice to use after a long run; to begin with I got pins and needles and the pain was unbearable and uncomfortable – but only for a few minutes. Ditto when I lay the mat on my chair, leaning into each spike as I typed away at my desk. Both my lower back and derriere enjoyed the acupressure treatment.
Over the next few days I found myself reaching for the mat as I sat down for work and slid into bed later in the day. Lying on the mat was no longer painful. I felt calm, relaxed and would eventually slip into the most peaceful sleep. Each time I lay on it I would get an overwhelming feeling of relaxation and tiredness. And guess what? My lower back pain is now nonexistent.
I was and still am shocked by the results, especially as I've been working from home for the best part of a year now and have been suffering the entire time. The Shakti Mat seems like a brilliant alternative to full body massages or acupuncture treatment while we're unable to access these services due to the current restrictions. For the price, you get real bang for your buck, and all in the comfort of your home. Now my body has become used to the sensation, I'm wondering why I didn't invest in a Shakti Mat sooner.
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