back pain, Quell
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Boston Herald, Quell 2.0, Pain Awareness Month (and Some Thoughts)

Hey kids! It’s been a while. Things have been busy with a new part-time job, so my attention has been diverted. Much has been happening. September came and went without me even mentioning Pain Awareness Month. Good job, me. My only contribution was being quoted in this Boston Herald piece about the Quell’s newly-released version 2.0. I think it explains wearables in a good way and how they can be added to a patient’s self-care toolbox. It won’t end the opioid epidemic, but it might help.

Read the Boston Herald article here.

Chronic pain patients are (rightly) suspicious of anything available over the counter. It always seems like someone is trying to take advantage of our suffering and pull a fast one on us.

Considering Stephen Colbert’s recent pointed slap to the Sackler family, there is a basis to this collective suspicion. For those unfamiliar, the Sacklers own pretty much all opioids in the universe (OxyContin, most importantly, a drug for which they pushed a hellishly inaccurate marketing campaign), and they also manufacture generics of their own products. Now they are taking over the very medications used to wean patients off the opioids they produce, ensuring a firm grip on every aspect of the market.

When everyone seems like they’re taking advantage of you and your pain, it’s very hard to trust. That is why I have always wanted to discover things for myself. (To be clear, I have never been paid by NeuroMetrix, the makers of the Quell device. I received a Quell 2.0 to test in exchange for a blog post about my experience with it. We’ll get to those thoughts in a minute.)

That inherent collective suspicion was actually why I became a columnist for the Pain News Network. Companies take advantage of desperate patients, and I wanted to find out, for myself, what works and what is BS. The Quell works. For me, at least.

It does not work for everyone; right now it’s averaging four out of five patients who show improvement. There is no miracle cure, not when there are so many different types of pain. That’s why the Quell is used in conjunction with other modalities: physical therapy, medications, exercise, diet, etc. I use mine along with all of those things.

If we’re talking pain scales here, the Quell allows me to get from an 8 to a 5. On great days, it’s an 8 to a 4. That might seem like nothing to write home about, but anyone with chronic pain understands how crucial even a bit of relief can be. It could mean the difference between staying in bed all day and getting up. It could mean shopping for groceries after work when otherwise you’d have to go home, hungry, and collapse. It gives you more relief, even if it’s not a panacea.

Nobody likes being told they have to take action to treat their pain. This pain was done to us. Why should we be responsible for fixing it? I didn’t ask to get rear-ended by two cars. I didn’t ask to break my spine or have two neck fusions. For many years, I expected my pain management specialist to fix my pain, to make it go away. These doctors, talented as they might be, can only manage. They cannot fix. They cannot cure. That means if you want something to be different, you have to do it yourself.

Hence why I try so many medical devices. Now, my thoughts on Quell 2.0.

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I was excited, okay? Also, I can’t open mail without destroying it.

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Here we go. As you can see from my stellar photography skills, the new version is much smaller. The band that wraps around your calf is the same size, but the unit feels less bulky. I can even do most yoga poses with it on, whereas before the device would disconnect from the electrode if I flexed my calf too much. Progress!

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Another change is that there is no power button on the device itself. You manage it solely with the app, which takes some getting used to. I’m familiar with slapping the Quell on and pressing a button before going about my day. Now I slap it on and have to remember to power the app if my phone isn’t in the immediate vicinity. I’ve forgotten to turn it on more than once, which is my own fault. Turning it off can now be achieved by tapping the unit twice.

The accompanying literature says this version is more powerful than 1.0, though it does not feel different. It’s not like there are more shocks (which is probably a good thing). The sensation is pretty much the same. I forget it’s on unless it’s at the beginning or end of a treatment cycle when the tingling is more powerful.

I have to determine efficacy based on what I accomplish on a physical basis. This is because my pain is diffuse and ever constant. No matter what I do, it’s always there. That’s why I examine my activity to see if I’m showing improvement. With the new device, I went on our annual trip to Milwaukee and kept up with friends. I went to bars and festivals and restaurants and sat in cars and sat at uncomfortable tables. I didn’t need three days to recover upon returning home; I was up and about the day after our flight. Normally I’d require much more rest. I think I can chalk that up to version 2.0, considering I haven’t changed anything else. (The only other change to my routine is that I received diagnostic thoracic outlet syndrome injections, but that’s a story for another day, and they certainly didn’t make me feel better. My arms burned and throbbed for two weeks afterward.)

Now, the most important test:

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Welcome to my legs.

GUYS. GUYS, I CAN WEAR VERSION 2.0 UNDER LEGGINGS.

It’s definitely not as noticeable as the previous version (when standing face-on, anyway).

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I must now never turn sideways!

Most people don’t seem to notice it (or if they do, they kindly do not remark on the square-shaped lump under my pant leg). I have discovered a valuable lesson as I age: Most individuals don’t think about your appearance for more than a few moments, a fact upon which I heavily rely. Those zits you’re so uncomfortable about? The daring peplum coat that might be out of style? Maybe a fleeting glance, a quick thought. Nobody cares. Maybe in my teenage years, I would’ve been self-conscious, but these days — at the ancient age of 31 — I couldn’t care less.

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It’s all about the ILLUSION. Also, Allbirds shoes? Most comfortable in the world. Get on that, folks. (For God’s sake, they’re machine washable!)

So Quell 2.0! I like it. I know I’m their go-to girl for talking points because I won’t shut up if I think there’s a chance it can help someone. I’ll tell you what I tell everyone else: NeuroMetrix offers a 60-day money-back trial period. That’s two months to see if it works for you. I knew within 15 minutes that it worked for me. No, I have not been paid for this endorsement. I just like things that work. 

What have you got to lose by trying?

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