By Pat Anson, Editor
Like many people who suffer from chronic back pain, Greg Watson has tried a lot of different treatments, including physical therapy, soft tissue manipulation, chiropractic adjustments, trigger point injections and dry needling.
“I did trigger point injections with really big needles,” says Watson, whose back was broken in four places when his bike was hit by a car in 2011. “A lot of interesting ways of relieving pain by triggering an even bigger pain. Some of those things would work temporarily.”
Watson spent five days in the hospital after the accident, where he was “pumped full of morphine.” When he was finally released and sent home, the 45-year old Watson was determined to avoid taking more pain medication. That meant trying all of those alternative therapies, with little success, and living for years with intermittent pain that sometimes reached a 6 or 7 on the pain scale.
A friend recommended that Watson try Quell, a battery powered medical device worn below the knee that uses electric nerve stimulation to relieve pain throughout the body -- a therapy known as neuromodulation.
“I felt it and noticed something right away,” says Watson. “It feels a little bit like pins and needles, and it kind of comes in little waves or pulses. Very low amounts of electricity coming into you.”
It took a couple of days for Watson to feel some pain relief. The biggest improvement he noticed was that he slept better.
“I would go home and put it on for a few hours and then be able to get a full night’s sleep without having to wake up with leg discomfort in the middle of the night,” said Watson, a city planner in Boston who is an avid runner and bicyclist.
On bad pain days, Watson will wear the Quell device while sleeping or at work. But mostly he just wears it for a few hours at a time. Watson has found that he’s often able the get through an entire day without even thinking about his pain.
“There are some days I get a bigger uptick in the amount of pain that comes from that old injury site. But when that’s the case, I just up-ramp the use of it a little more.”
Quell is made by NeuroMetrix (NASDAQ: NURO), which recently won approval for the device to be sold in the Europe Union.
It’s been available in the U.S. since the summer of 2015 and is FDA approved for the treatment of chronic pain.
Quell can be purchased without a prescription, but is not covered by insurance and costs $249 through the company’s website or on Amazon.
But readers have had mixed results with the device.
“Very expensive, wasn't covered under my Medicare insurance. I tried it for a couple of weeks and simply didn't receive ANY pain relief for my low back and neck. None. I am very disappointed,” wrote one woman.
“I have been using Quell for a month now. I use it mainly at night for the pain that I experience in my hips and legs that keeps me from sleeping,” wrote Pam. “It actually has helped me to ditch the sleeping pills. It helps me fall asleep. I am elated.”
“I am on day 18 of my Quell device. It has eliminated the pain in my knees. No more Bengay, Australian Dream or Blue Emu Cream needed. The pain in my feet and hips has diminished greatly,” said Beth Flood. “It is not perfect, it is not a complete answer, but for what it does and the relief it has offered, it is well worth buying.”
NeuroMetrix recently announced that it was conducting a small clinical study of Quell in 60 adults with chronic low back pain at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Pain Management Center. The three month study will compare a group of patients using Quell to patients using their “treatment-as-usual.” Participants in both groups will use a smartphone app developed by the Pain Management Center to help them document and manage their pain.
“This study will analyze the potential for Quell to reduce pain and improve quality of life in people suffering from chronic low back pain. We look forward to learning a great deal from this study,” said Shai Gozani, MD, President and CEO of NeuroMetrix in a news release.
In previous small studies of Quell in patients with arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, sciatica or fibromyalgia, over 80 percent said the device relieved their chronic pain and improved their overall health. The largest measured changes were in pain relief, along with improved sleep, general activity and walking ability.
Over two-thirds of the patients said Quell also reduced the amount of pain medication they were taking. That’s an important consideration for Greg Watson.
“Especially if you’re looking to avoid medication. That’s the absolutely most appealing thing about it to me,” he says.