A new wearable device for chronic pain uses electrical stimulation to help people with fibromyalgia, back pain and diabetic nerve pain gain relief. And, it comes with its own iOS app to work the device.
The device is worn on the upper calf and delivers electrical stimulation to activate sensory nerves in the leg. The stimulation triggers the brain to release endogenous opioids, which help block pain signals.
Dr. Shai Gozani, president and CEO of NeuroMetrix, the company that makes the Quell system said, “When you stimulate normal sensory nerves, it actually will trigger the brain to block pain signals. It elevates your inherent pain modulating chemicals—at a molecular level, it’s what painkillers do synthetically. But you can essentially cause a similar effect without any of the downsides by electrically stimulating to induce your brain to produce these chemicals.”
The Quell system is FDA-approved and available without a prescription. People who use the device state they wear it at night as well as during the day, and some report receiving pain relief within 15 minutes of turning stimulation on.
The device is Bluetooth enabled, which allows it to communicate with the Apple iOS app. The app provides the user with the ability to change the amount of stimulation (therapy) that is delivered. It also has a “dashboard,” which includes both therapy and sleep tracking.
Gozani described how beneficial the app is to the company, saying, “It’s almost like a crowdsourced research study. We’ll look at thousands of people who are using the device in the real world. We think that is a much more effective strategy than doing randomized clinical trials, because the trials cost tens of millions of dollars, you end up looking at very narrow populations because they’re very controlled, at the end of the day you don’t really learn that much about real world applications.”
The use of electrical stimulation for pain relief has been around for a very long time. External stimulation, called TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), normally delivers stimulation to the location of pain. It is often used by people with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, tendinitis and bursitis. Experts say TENS is a safe therapy. Quell differs from TENS in that is has a different mechanism of action, meaning it is targeting specific nerve bundles that trigger pain blocking chemicals in the brain.