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Fast Company 04/02/2015

This Wearable Fights Chronic Pain—Without Drugs

For someone living with severe pain after an injury or because of illness, the usual answer–drugs–can pose some obvious problems, like addiction or an accidental overdose. But a new wearable device tackles pain another way: By stimulating nerves in the leg, the gadget claims it can block pain signals without someone necessarily popping a pill.

Quell Wearable Pain Relief Technology

The device, called Quell, isn’t the first to use electrical stimulation to fight pain; similar technology has been used since the 1970s. It works by triggering natural opioids in the brain.

“When you stimulate normal sensory nerves, it actually will trigger the brain to block pain signals,” says Dr. Shai Gozani, president and CEO of NeuroMetrix, the company that made Quell. “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.”

In the past, the technology has often been implanted under the skin, because it only blocks pain while it’s zapping someone. “Implanting it is very expensive, and there are downsides–it’s surgery,” says Gozani. “It’s reserved for a small number of people. But you can accomplish the same thing by stimulating across the skin. For that, you really need a wearable.”

The company, which originally started as a spinoff from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, worked with engineers and designers to make a version of the technology that someone with chronic pain could strap on and theoretically wear all day.

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