I have now been using the Quell pain relief device for 15 days. Here are my initial thoughts:
- I definitely notice when I am not wearing it. Last week I was on the beach in Cape Cod with the in-laws for an afternoon, so I didn’t put it on for fear of ugly tan lines. I crashed as soon as I got back to the hotel. My pain quieted within 20 minutes when I started wearing the Quell again.
- While it can be tolerated on a 24-hour basis, I have been wearing the Quell only during the daytime. My pain is better when I’m flat on my back (once I take some tizanidine, anyway). I attempted to wear it one night and found the vibration, even in nighttime mode, too distracting. On the plus side, Husband could not feel the vibration on his side of the bed, so it won’t disturb any partners.
- For not wearing it 24-hours a day, the electrodes wear down at a rapid rate. After five days bits of the gel came off and stuck to my skin when I removed the device.
- Considering that replacements are $30 a pop, I hope that this will be worked out in future versions.
- While slimmer and more non-obtrusive than most pain relief devices, it is still not small enough to be worn under form-fitting pants without looking like I have a monstrous tumor. Luckily, I can change my wardrobe. I need new pants anyway, and flares are coming back. Today I am wearing it under normal dress pants, and it’s invisible. However, a lot of my wardrobe centers around leggings and tights, which would be impossible with the Quell unless I stretch those out — which, of course, I am willing to do if the result makes me feel better.
- When wearing it with shorts or a skirt, everyone assumes I injured myself. The resounding chorus of “What did you do now?” is always fun to hear. Upon reviewing the Quick Start guide, however, I saw that if the skin is irritated around the upper calf, you can also wear the device above the knee once the Quell has been recalibrated for the new position. This makes it easier to hide. I do not know if this alternative position makes the treatment less effective.
- I have become extremely adept at internally timing the 60-minute intervals. The device switches on for 60 minutes and off for 60 minutes in order for the patient not to develop a tolerance. Once I hit 50 minutes of the “off” phase, I start checking the iPhone app repeatedly in order to see when the next treatment will start.
- I am taking fewer ibuprofen each day; within four days, I had cut the number of over-the-counter pills I take in half. My esophageal tract is thanking me.
All in all, I am giving the Quell a gold star. Anything that helps me get through my already difficult work day is fine by me. This is less conspicuous than other TENS units, and I feel it is far more effective (for me, anyway).
I was finally able to find a section of Quell’s website called “The Science Behind Quell,” which is a fascinating read.
From what I understand, when TENS units were introduced in the 1970s, they were originally used to determine which patients would respond best to implantable nerve stimulators. Their overwhelmingly positive reception indicated that there was a need for these intensive nerve stimulators, though not everyone was a candidate for the surgery. This led to wearable intensive nerve stimulation, or WINS.
WINS follows the “Pain Gate” theory, which states that peripheral nerve stimulation closes a gate in the spinal cord and blocks off pain. As the report said,
[a]lthough it is activated by localized peripheral nerve stimulation, the descending pain inhibition system has analgesic effects that may extend beyond the stimulation site to provide broad pain relief.
Simply put, even though the device is placed on the calf (“My calf doesn’t hurt,” you might think), the pain gate theory means that it can still produce a calming, opioid-like effect on the rest of the body by using “endogenous opioids,” or naturally-occurring opioids in the body. They work through a different opioid receptor in the body than prescription drugs do. That being said, if someone has developed a tolerance to Vicodin, for instance, they might respond favorably to a WINS device because it works through a different receptor in the body.
I am responding favorably to the Quell. Recently I was having a bad day and had to take half a Vicodin for the first time in a long while. As that familiar opioid sensation flowed through my body, I compared it to the Quell. The pill took effect faster, but it did not last. I felt lazy and tired, just a lump in a recliner. I was useless. Though it calmed my pain, it also made me not care about it. Or anything else, really.
The Quell lets me function without compromising my brain. I have more energy to get through the day. I can think. It doesn’t take care of all the pain, not by a long shot, but it takes care of enough of the pain that I can pretend to be a real human being. And for now, that is enough.