Some think that wearables are a pain, like Alan Tyers who wrote “why I hate wearable technology” for The Telegraph. But how about wearables that can actually relieve pain?
The opioid crisis has revealed another real ongoing problem: a lot of people have chronic pain. For example, Lady Gaga recently revealed that she suffers from fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says afflicts 4 million people (or 2% of the adult population). This number may actually be an underestimate because determining the real number of people that have fibromyalgia can be a pain. Fibromyalgia is frequently under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed. Many people, including doctors, are not fully aware of the condition. People may try to maintain a “Poker Face” when afflicted with the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as pain and stiffness throughout your body, fatigue, depression, anxiety, difficulties sleeping, memory problems, and headaches. Or they may attribute the symptoms to something else. Also, until the FM/a Test was approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 2012, no simple test for fibromyalgia was available.
While fibromyalgia is certainly not the only reason someone may be started on opioids, a publication in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology discussed how fibromyalgia has contributed to the increase in opioid medication prescriptions since 2004. Opioid medications, if you haven’t heard, can be quite addictive and lead to the use of other drugs like heroin. Therefore, there is an urgent need for more alternatives to opioid medications to help manage chronic pain.
Enter the wearable movement. While some wearables may seem unnecessary (e.g., the No More Woof headset supposedly translates dog barks into English so that you can know when your dog is saying “what an idiot”), wearable technology for pain relief is an intriguing emerging area. It may sound a bit like a late night infomercial or something from a mystical healer: wear this band around your leg to decrease the pain throughout your whole body. But there is real scientific reasoning behind devices such as NeuroMetrix’s Quell that received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for over-the-counter use in July 2014.
The Quell device is a band that looks like a bit like blood pressure cuff that you wear around your upper calf. The device does not utilize any medications but instead generates electric signals that stimulate your body to produce naturally occurring substances (endogenous opioids) that can then inhibit nerve signals that lead to feeling pain. In other words, the device helps activate your body’s natural system for regulating pain.
Shai N. Gozani, M.D., Ph.D., Founder and CEO of NeuroMetrix, Inc. explained that “fibromyalgia is believed to result from problems with the central nervous system. There is no injury per se in the peripheral nerves. The balance between positive and negative signals regulating the pain neurons may be off. The nerve signals that inhibit pain signals may be decreased. The Quell device can help boost this part of the system.”
Image Credit: Neurometrix