What is the secret behind the needle stimulation pad?

September 05, 2020

If you are tired of reading, check out the video article below!

Are you one of many people who are overstimulated and are you looking for ways to relax and reduce your stress levels? Or do you suffer from chronic pain in the neck and lower back area? Have you tried everything to get rid of it? Perhaps it is time to add an unconventional tool to the mix. Was it not Einstein who advised us to try different things if we want different results? Well, this ancient tool has stood the test of time. Introducing the needle stimulation pad, spike mat, acupressure mat (or any of the other thousands of names you could think of). It consists of over 1000 sharp plastic needles, or ‘thorns’ if you will. These sharp edges with a length of about 5mm are also placed about 5mm apart from each other.


In the early days, this device was favored by Hindu mystics, but especially in the 80’s there has been a surge in use of various forms of the mat in Russia curing ‘a large number of common ailments’.

Especially in the Nordics, as reported by NY times, the mat has seen an increase in popularity in the current millennium.

One of the influencers that gave a lot of attention to it, and sparked the rise of the acupressure mat is Tim Ferris. In one of his blog posts he recommended it as one of the top gifts under $50, and his favorite practice is to have two 6-10 minute sessions per day as a cure for mid-back issues and to improve his thoracic mobility, he also explains his top tips for fixing back pain in this video

Tim is an expert in many things, but is a 6-10-minute session what we should be aiming for? 

Different type of versions

Before we get there, let’s have a look at the many different versions of the mat which are commercially available, and the different forms they come in. Most mats are pretty simple, yet there is a company called AKU which is ready to disrupt the market with their metal acupressure mat. They did definitely spike interest at the dragons den!

AKU mat


For all AKU products and the AKU mat, use coupon code 'HYLKE20' on checkout to get 20% off.


Swedish spike mat


Russian spike mat or bed of nails


For Bed of Nails get 15% off with the following link and use the code 'BON15HYLKE' on checkout.

Use and application

Matts and pads exist in different forms, but also in different sizes for specific application for tight areas of the body. The Swedish spike mat for example, can be applied specifically on the thighs or arms.


Aku has a ball that can be specifically used for your hands, which can help to treat arthritis or Raynaud’s disease. 


In general, application on smaller body parts than your back requires less treatment time.

Shakti mats recommends the following treatment time per body part:

Back: 20 minutes
Neck:10 minutes
Shoulders: 10 minutes
Feet: 5 minutes
Legs: 10 minutes
Belly: 5 minutes

Shakti mats has also visualized how the body responds to a 20-minute back session:



Below you can see quite well that engaging in a session can be straight out PAINFUL. Especially in the first 30 seconds, subjective pain ratings reach a peak level as measured in this study.


If you want to work around this, I would suggest wearing a t-shirt, especially in the earlier stages of your practice. Any other thin fabric such as a pillow cover would be suitable for this as well. Aside of the initial pain that is typically reported, there are no adverse side effects or dangers from using the tool. That being said, there are some people that find the mat too agonizing, such as in this study where 8 patients out of 91 dropped out because it was too painful.


Major benefits of needle stimulation

To come back to the initial topic of stress relief, is an acupressure mat a potential tool of relief for these types of symptoms? There are 3 reasons how it could help.

1. Physiological variables

The following study looked at exactly that, the physiological parameters. 

A good indicator of the autonomic nervous system response, and especially parasympathetic activity as a result of pain induction is Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

The stimulation of the needles is very likely to trigger a parasympathetic response, since it lowers heart rate and increases the HRV high frequency power. 


Also, systolic (A) and diastolic bloodpressure (B) increases:


Interestingly, the study did not find a big difference in the amount of breaths taken between the soft bed and the bed of nails, but there was a clear difference between the absence of a CD or the relaxing CD, the CD had some instructions from a female voice to breath more slowly, which is exactly what the participants did. As a result of the nails contact with the skin, the blood circulation in the back increases leading to a higher back temperature.


2. Psychological variables

One study has done experimentation with the mat for 3 weeks, subjecting their participants to 15-minute sessions daily. The psychological effects were profound. Participants of the study noted that they felt more energized during the study, and saw reductions in stress, anxiety and depression. And although the study was not able to verify it statistically, sleep quality also notably improved and the participants were very enthusiastic about the use overall.

Granted, the use of the mat does not evoke altered states of consciousness similar to what can be prescribed by use of a float tank or specific types of yoga. It can be speculated that the discomfort of the mat induces a sort of mindfulness response or alertness, triggered directly by the pain.


3. Targeted pain relief

The needle stimulation pad is able to provide immediate intermittent pain relief for painful areas such as the back and the neck


In the following study, painful areas were identified by pain area inventory taken over 833 equal sized squares, which looks something like this….


But with many smaller squares! These areas were identified by their number and severity, and it turns out that the experimental group reported significant reduction in painful areas and worst pain intensity.

The effects of the needle stimulation pad for chronic neck- and backpain through application over a 2-week period is especially overwhelming as can be seen in the pain rating scale below:



The authors explain about the complex evolution of chronic pain. Even when the initial injury or inflammation may no longer be present, various things happen in the body which lead to chronic pain. It is said that the recruitment of nociceptors, the neuron that signals threats in the environment, can be increased through hypersensitivity of receptors and can lead to permanent neuroplastic changes in the spinal cord. It is hypothesized that treatments such as the spike mat or cupping for example, can change the nociceptor environment and the receptive fields of spinal neurons.

Hyperalgesia, which is known as increased pain to normal painful stimuli or simply having lower pain thresholds, could be reversed this way. Other studies have also shown that certain reactivation or re-sensitization could trigger memory reconsolidation  and erasure of pain pathways. 


So there you have it. Are there big secrets to using a needle mat? No. But the benefits are more profound than one may expect on first sight. Especially if you consistently incorporate it in you daily practice, it can really be a BIG gamechanger over time. Are you using the mat and have you experienced any changes? Leave a message in the comments! 


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