By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There’s a new device that claims to ease your pain with no pills and no surgery. But does it provide nothing more than temporary relief?

Because of chronic pain, Dave Anderson was taking up to 12 ibuprofen pills a day to keep playing squash.

“My physician told me to stop taking the ibuprofen and I said, ‘I gotta do something else,’” Anderson said.

Pain medications, whether anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or narcotics like oxycodone, can affect a variety of organs if they are taken over a long period of time. Some people are looking for a way to control pain that doesn’t involve drugs or surgery.
For that reason, Anderson strapped on a device called Quell, a band with a therapy pod.

“I am not taking any more ibuprofen,” he said. “It’s completely controlled the daily pain that I was having, and it has allowed me a much faster recovery after physical exercise.”

The device is thought to work by stimulating sensory nerves in your leg. Through a brain pathway, this leads to a release of your body’s own chemical pain fighters called endorphins.

“People are using it for all kinds of conditions,” Frank McGillin of NeuroMetrix said. “Arthritis, nerve pain, painful diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, sciatica, lower back pain.”

West Penn Hospital Pain Medicine pain specialist Dr. Jack Kabazie says this is a short term fix.

“We have a finite amount of [endorphins],” Kabazie said. “We deplete them, then we make more, then we use them again when we need to.”

He points out the Quell website says this over-the-counter device is FDA cleared, meaning it’s safe. That is different than FDA approved, which would indicate effectiveness for a particular condition.

“[The makers of Quell] also state that this product is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease,” he said.

For his patients, he prefers to go with FDA-approved devices such as spinal cord stimulators and TENS units, rather than Quell.

“It’s nothing really new,” Kabazie said. “It’s just a TENS unit, a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device, it’s been around for years and years. This one just happens to have an app. Certainly the ones I recommend don’t cost $250 with a $30 payout every two weeks to continue to use it.”

It may be the price some people are willing to pay to try to forget their aches and pains.

“It’s there, but you just sort of forget about it over time,” Anderson said.

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