Reflexo-Therapy With Mechanical Skin
Stimulation: Pilot Study

Tanya Zilberter, Ph.D., Jim Roman.
Community Wholistic Health Center,
Carrboro, North Carolina 103 Weaver St., Carrboro NC 27710
The paper was presented at the International Symposium on Integrative
Medicine, May 26-28, 1999, Omega Institute, NY.

A medical device to deliver skin stimulation was developed in Russia in the
early 1980s and several studies were done on the device. These studies
indicated a high degree of success in the treatment of a variety of disorders.
The device and method of use were based loosely on the practice of
acupuncture. These, however, does not help to explain the phenomenon
within Western scientific paradigm. Aside from metaphysical explanations
about energy flow through the channels-meridians, there have been few
theories proposed.

The present paper reviews the development and the early
Russian studies, as well as results of the pilot research program conducted in
the Community Wholistic Health Center, Carrboro, NC. The paper then
discusses two of the theories applicable to the results.


Traditional Eastern healing methods and Western folk remedies include a
number of skin stimulation techniques, the most common of which is
massage and the most sophisticated is acupuncture. The “bed of nails”, long
favored by certain Hindu mystics, probably shares an underlying mechanism
with acupuncture. A modern version of the bed of nails was invented about
fifteen years ago by a lay Russian person, Ivan Kuznetzov, for his own use as
a kind of self-acupuncture device. It turned out to be extremely successful in
relieving and curing a large number of common ailments in Russia, in 1982,
when it was being tested at The Institute of Experimental Surgery [1]. Back
then, it was a handmade rubber mat which had approximately fifteen hundred
stainless steel office pins in it, about 50 mm apart from each other with the
sharp ends up. The hope was to eventually affect acupuncture points with
some of the pins, like shooting a penny with a large number of pellets. The
hope was also that the many pins not on target will not harm whatever good
the right pins might do.

Russian Research Studies
Based on informal studies, five Moscow clinics gave the device positive
reviews and it was approved for use by the Department of Health. It was
mass produced and distributed by a cooperative firm run by Kuznetzov and
eventually could be bought in any drug store. The case files on the patients
who used the device filled up several walls and the line for appointments
formed well before opening. A documentary was filmed and aired over Soviet
national television. At the time, no one was really interested why the method
worked. The documentation covered over 5,000 treatments on over 400
patients. The studies showed highly reproducible pain relief for complicated
fractures and concussions, reduction in surgical pain, reduced pain and
stiffness in patients with osteochondrosis, improved respiratory function in
patients with broncho-pulminary conditions, and all with no side effects.
(Summaries of these research studies are included in the Appendix).
Although the method achieved great success in Russia, no professional
discussions were held, no articles were published, and no proposed theories
behind the method were ever offered.

Recent U.S. Research Studies

In the United States, a new version of Kuznetzov’s device is now available
under the brand name Panaceaยช, it is composed of a flexible polyurethane
base (9.5″ x 19″) with 1320 pointed pyramidal “stimulators” which provide
intensive tactile stimulation when being pressed with the body weight upon
the skin of the back in the supine position. Distribution of the body weight
between large number of “stimulators” insures a safe procedure without
penetrating the skin.

The study done in 1996 consisted of following up 200 subjects who used their
own devices for at least two weeks. 126 of them filled out the questionnaires
which were collected and analyzed. Among them, 105 treported that they
used the device for various specific health problems The five most frequently
reported conditions
were the following (starting with the most frequent): stress, pain, muscle
spasms, mood swings and insomnia.

One or more positive effects of the device on the conditions specified by
subjects were reported by 99 of the 105 participants (94%) with the above
specific health problems. However, in many cases there were not enough
subjects to make comclusions regarding effects of the Panacea on the
specific ailments. To obtain significant number of cases, we included in the
questionnaire 5 health conditions to be estimated by all the participants,
including those with no particular health problems.
One of the questions of the questionnaire was the following: “Did you
experience any positive effects using the Panacea in the following categories:
relaxation, pain relief, sleep quality, energy level, allergies?” Out of 126
subjects, 98% reported pain relief, 96% reported relaxation, 94% reported
improvement in the quality of sleep, and 81% reported an increase in energy
level. Approximatelly half of the subjects with allergy problems reported their
symptoms’ relief
Out 21 participants who reported no tested the method while having no
particular health problems, 13 nevertheless reported one or more positive
effects of the Panacea
The only adverse effect is some initial discomfort which disappears after a
few treatments. In fact, one of the questions in our research questionnaire
was the following: “What was your comfort level the first time you laid on the
Panacea? The fifth time?” During the first use 46% felt very uncomfortable
and 42% uncomfortable. However, by the fifth use, the picture has reversed:
52.5% felt very comfortable and 36.5% – comfortable (Fig.4).


New Theories.

One of the few known Western theories on acupuncture [2, 3] belongs to a
team of theoretical biologists working under Dr. Dmitri Chernavski, a
professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Physics, in
Moscow. The group approached the problem from the point of view of
concept of neurocomputing [4]
Since mid-century, using a model based on real (live) neural structures, a
whole new class of computers, possessing so called “artificial intelligence”,
has been developed — ones that can learn, recognize objects, and correct
their own mistakes. In somewhat of a paradox, the reverse logic has been
used now, in order to explain the mechanisms of a live brain using the known
electronic models. Thus the theory of self-diagnostic function of an organism
was developed.
Many of the processes of recognizing images, including the “image” of a
disease, take place at as low level of the central nervous system as the spinal
cord. In the gray matter of the spinal cord, neurons are organized into what
are called “Rexed laminae” and their functions are well-known. The signals
from the inner organs, from the skin, muscles, etc., separately one from
another, first go through the first lamina. Then the signals move through the
second lamina, third one, and so on, while increasingly interacting with each
other and finally reach the brain in the form of integrated sets of information
about the body’s state of being.
The computers that recognize objects have basically the same laminar
structure and similar function of signal integration. In both cases, an omitted
signal from an internal organ, or one that is not strong enough, can be
compensated for in the process of multiple repetitive passing back and forth
(“back propagation”), as well as by a kind of filtering through the laminae. The
process is only possible if the total current of the integrated signal is powerful
According to Dr. Chernavski, skin stimulation at the specific point of
acupuncture corresponded to a particular internal organ or it’s function, accomplishes the
goal of strengthening a weak or deteriorated signal from the organ. The process of
integration in the Rexed laminae, in this case of information from the skin and
the organ, increases the flow of “signals of illness” from an organ, or points
out a body’s mistake in recognizing the disorder.
It is as if you wanted to send a message to someone down the stream. Your
write the message on a sheet of paper, fold the sheet in a manner of a paper
boat and then face the fact that there is little or no water in the stream. Add
some water, and the little boat will get there. Neither the way of adding the
water nor the water itself has any effect on the content of letter sent.
Why the pairs “skin point- organ” converge in the central nervous system, is
not completely clear. One of hypotheses is that it is due to rudimental
memory of the process of embriogenesis, when the cells composing the skin
and the organs originated from common maternal cells before the
differentiation process diverge them. The phenomenon of skin projection of
internal organs doubtlessly occurs and many, for example, angina sufferers
experience it on practice in form of pain irradiation to the scapular or jaw skin
areas. The possibility to use this circumstances has been empirically
discovered by many healing schools from ancient to our days.
Once the body has the stronger, clearer information about the injury or
disease, the natural healing powers of the body take over. What happens
when the disease is recognized, the above theory does not explain, stating
that the body has enough resources to battle the disease on its own.
Conventional medicine neglects that statement, while holistic medicine is
based on it.
Nevertheless, conventional medicine may be missing an opportunity in
dismissing this explanation too quickly. Within the limits of the West’s strict
paradigm, there has been collected a large number of facts on natural ways
of fighting diseases by restoring a proper balance of physiological functions.
We offer to discuss one of the most universal mechanisms to restore body’s
It is known that a number of physical actions in excess of average intensity,
can trigger the release of endorphins (Fig. 5), including but notl imited to: pain
[5], stress [6], bleeding [7], acupuncture [8, 9], sex [10], positive emotions [11]
, highly palatable foods [12], memorization process [13].
Pain reduction, in it’s turn, is the most common result associated with the
release of endorphins [14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19]. It has been eventually
concluded, that any intense skin stimulation will cause a significant release of
endorphins [20].
Another effect is the curious state the body falls into after the endorphin
concentration has gone up: a number of other physiological regulators are
released into the bloodstream such as growth hormone and insulin [21, 22].
Each one of those regulators changes a number of different body functions
As a result, it is not surprising that many serious diseases are linked to the
abnormalities in the endorphin system including: schizophrenia [23, 24, 25],
epilepsy [26], Parkinson’s disease [27, 28, 29], hypertensia [30, 31], diabetes
[32, 33, 34], PMS [35, 36, 37, 38], hot flashes [39], weight problems [40,
41, 42].
Thus, skin stimulation, even not necessarily as accurate as in acupuncture,
but intensive enough, does at least two things:
1. Provides additional unspecific sensory input to the body’s self-diagnostic
center in the central nervous system thus amplifying insufficient signals from
diseased internal organs.
2. Coordinates the body’s functions through the cascade of physiological
triggered by endorphins which in their turn are being released by reflexes
from the skin.
These explanations throw new light on the results of Russian research in this
area done during the 1980s and may explain the success of Kuznetzov’s

We suggest that, since this type of skin stimulation has been repeatedly
shown to elicit reflexes causing release of endorphins into the blood stream,
most of the reported results can be explained by the mobilization of this
particular type of endogenous stress- and pain-protective mechanism. We
also consider important the local blood flow increase as well as the
involvement of dozens of acupoints activated during the procedure. In the
most used position of the Panacea upon the upper- to lower back, the
acupoints involved can be expected to provide the following effects:
- Strengthening the liver, spleen and kidney
- Alleviating headaches, fatigue,depression and insomnia
- Easing spinal problems, sciatica, muscle spasms and cramps
- Activation the immune system
- Relief of flu, cold and asthma
- Regulation of digestion and elimination
- Improvement of conditions of cystitis, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, PMS and
complicated periods.
We regard this study as a pilot one however promising. The Community
Wholistic Health Center is in process of collecting data on specific health
problems that can benefit from the natural and free of adverse effects method
of reflexo-therapy with mechanical skin stimulation.


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Pilot Study
In 1995, I came to work with the Community Holistic Health Center at Carrboro,
NC (later, the Center moved to Hillsborough.) At that time, the Center’s board of
directors was about making its strategic development plans and I suggested a
research program on Reflexo-therapy. After consulting a lawyer and getting
information on human subjects rules from the University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, and after practically all board members and stuff tried and loved the
applicator, the project was accepted and in 1997 we had our pilot study
completed. We followed up 200 of my patients who used the Applicator and
asked them to fill out our simple questionnaire. The amazingly many of them,
126, answered our questions. The five most frequently reported reasons for
using the Applicator were stress, pain, muscle spasms, mood swings and
insomnia. Overall, we had an astonishing spectrum of reasons why people were
using the Applicator: lack of energy, mood swings, insomnia, impotence,
asthma, varicose veins, hypoglycemia, skin condition, inflammation, weight
problem, fast heart beat, nasal or sinus congestion, fear or panic attack,
Out of our 126 subjects, 98% reported pain relief, 96% reported relaxation, 94%
improvement in the quality of sleep, and 81% reported an increase in energy
level. Approximately half of the subjects with allergy problems reported their
symptoms’ relief. Among those who tested the method while having no particular
health problems, more than a half nevertheless reported one or more positive
effects of the Applicator.