Wearables for fitness and health are ubiquitous these days. Everywhere you look someone is tracking their heart rate, number of steps, and calories consumed via a small device on their wrist. These devices, also known as body-borne computers, have become a popular way to motivate people to gain and maintain good health through not only exercise and diet but also sleep, tracking quality and quantity of sleep, to offer a complete picture of total health and wellness.
The competition for wearables in the fitness industry is heating up, with more than 17 million devices shipping out to stores in 2014, with that number increasing to 45 million by 2017. While preliminary research indicates that wearables work in general to track workouts and motivate the user, each one is only as good as the apps and programs that they contain.
Recognizing the potential for wearables to help with chronic pain, many companies are turning their attention to this market. People diagnosed with a chronic pain condition are often looking for a solution that helps them function better in their daily life. This desire for a portable treatment dovetails nicely with the on-the-go pain relief that may be offered by a wearable. Here are three wearables that are emerging as treatment possibilities for chronic pain.
CUR is a device that acts in the same manner as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy. A traditional TENS unit uses electrodes that are placed at the area of the pain. These electrodes send a mild electrical stimulation into the skin, blocking the perception of pain and increasing the brain’s production of endorphins, both of which may result in pain relief.
The CUR unit does the same thing without controllers or wires. A Band-aid-like piece is placed at the site of the pain (most effectively for back, shoulder, arm, and knee pain) and the CUR unit is attached. It delivers an electrical stimulation similar to a large TENS unit found in the doctor’s office. The current is “intelligent”; it automatically adjusts to the level required for pain relief.
Quell is another wearable for chronic pain, the only one that boasts U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for day and night use. This wearable slides into a band and delivers mild electrical stimulation that works in much the same way as CUR. The difference between the two seems to be in added function. Quell offers an app for sleep tracking that syncs to a smartphone. It is well-documented that chronic pain not only increases at night but also that fatigue increases the perception of pain during the day. Quell tracks quality and quantity of sleep to see if the wearable is working.
This wearable is worn around the calf and is also adjustable depending on the level of relief needed.
This wearable device is not specifically marketed to chronic pain patients, but it does offer potential benefits for pain, inflammation, and muscle spasm. sam® stands for “sustained acoustic medicine” (ultrasound therapy) and is FDA-approved to be worn for up to fours hours of continuous use. It uses ultrasound technology to offer pain relief and to increase mobility and blood and oxygen circulation in the area being treated. This device is not a traditional wearable in that it is not a bracelet. Users apply patches to the area being treated and control treatment with a controller the size of an iPod.
Unlike the other wearables on this list, sam® is only available by prescription. The manufacturer of sam®, ZetrOZ, Inc., received a design award in 2015, recognizing its contributions to the field of bio-electronic pain relief.
While not specifically for chronic pain relief, there are other wearables that can help chronic pain patients track their symptoms or side effects of pain and take action.
Poor sleep has long been linked to increased pain during the day for chronic pain patients. For those patients who want to try to figure out just what kind of poor sleep they are experiencing, Sleep Image is a wearable that offers a detailed picture of the quality and quantity of sleep every night. FDA-approved and clinically tested, this wearable tracks heart rhythm (ECG), breathing volume, snoring (through tissue vibration), body movement, and sleep position (side, back, or stomach). The wearable then uses this data to make recommendations and can also be used as a subscription service to deliver more data directly to your doctor.
A proper diet can go a long way towards relief of chronic pain symptoms, especially during a flare-up. Most diet trackers rely on patient reporting to make suggestions, but many patients miss adding a meal or report inaccurately. An engineering professor at the University of Alabama is developing a diet-tracking wearable that will eliminate the gaps in patient reporting. This wearable is worn like a Bluetooth device, hooked over the ear. It uses images to capture pictures of food intake and sensors for chewing that estimate energy intake. By removing patient reporting, doctors and patients can get a more accurate picture of what is being eaten and potentially pinpoint foods that act as triggers for chronic pain flare-ups.
Wearables for chronic pain are still in their infancy. Would you try one of these to help relieve your pain?