Consumer wireless muscle stimulator targets low back pain

December 20, 2012. Ultra low power (ULP) RF specialist Nordic Semiconductor ASA, based in Oslo, Norway, has announced that Hollywog, a U.S.-based medical device company, has launched a remote-controlled consumer muscle stimulator that employs clinically-proven TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) technology to specifically target low back pain, using a pair of Nordic nRF24LE1 2.4-GHz SoCs to provide wireless connectivity.

Low back pain is both one of the most common forms of pain people experience in the developed world and reasons for visiting a doctor. A 2004 study found close to 3 in 10 of the adult population in the U.S., for example, reported experiencing low back pain, and for around half of them – totaling 40.5 million people – the symptoms were severe enough to seek professional medical help (see “Aching backs impact cost, disability“). The annual cost of treating back pain in the U.S. in 2004 was estimated to be almost $200 billion.

In operation the low cost WiTouch, which retails for $149, comprises a thin (18 x 191 x 90 mm), lightweight (136 g) pad that the user attaches to the lower back using replaceable adhesive gel pads. A completely automatic 30-minute treatment using a patented TENS waveform is then activated via a small remote control that also allows the user to increase or decrease the treatment intensity remotely. The device is small enough to be worn discretely under clothing.

In operation a Nordic nRF24LE1 located in the remote communicates with a sister nRF24LE1 in the WiTouch device. The use of an ultra-low-power Nordic nRF24LE1 in the remote allows the remote to operate from a regular CR2032 coin cell battery for up to one year before needing replacement, while advanced interference avoidance techniques allow the WiTouch to communicate with its remote control reliably even in hostile 2.4-GHz operating environments that include, for example, Bluetooth wireless technology and Wi-Fi emitters in the vicinity. The WiTouch pad itself can deliver over 150 30-minute treatments from a single pair of regular AAA batteries.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a non-invasive, drug-free method of controlling pain by the transmission of electrical stimulation to the body’s nerve or muscle fibers through the skin. Pain relief or suppression in TENS can be achieved via one of two clinical theories: one that suppresses the transmission of pain in nerves using high frequencies above 80 Hz (called Gate Control Theory); and one that increases the discharge of the body’s endorphins, which reduces the sensitivity to pain in the central nervous system while prolonging pain relief after treatment using low frequencies below 10 Hz (called Opiate Release Theory). The Hollywog WiTouch’s exclusive waveform incorporates both of these clinical TENS theories to provide pain relief via an exclusive 3-stage waveform developed specifically for pain relief.

“In the U.S. and developed world we are facing a low back pain epidemic,” commented Keith Hagy, VP of product development at Hollywog. “And it's a disturbing reality that for most people the only relief they can get is from powerful prescription pain killers that are themselves in the U.S. also being used in epidemic proportions and carry significant health risks: more Americans die from prescription painkiller overdoses, over 40 people each day, than from heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.” (See “Prescription painkiller overdoses at epidemic levels.”). “In contrast, the WiTouch was developed to give consumers a safe, drug-free, and effective way to treat low back pain that's easy-to-use, discreet [no one needs to know they are wearing the device or in pain], and comfortable.”

Hagy continued, “And we selected Nordic wireless technology because we needed to aggressively target a consumer price point for the end product and required a wireless solution for the remote control that would give us the reliability and performance assurance you need in any consumer self-treatment device, while consuming very little power.”

“Products like the WiTouch empower consumers to take control of their own health and wellbeing on a mass-market scale and gives those suffering from low back pain a brand new option for improving their quality of life,” concluded Geir Langeland, Nordic Semiconductor's director of sales and marketing.

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