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Home Devices Can Revolutionize Health Care

Personal Perspective: A neuromodulation device can provide agency over healing.

Source: Dimhou/Pixabay

In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, Marom Bikson, the co-director of neural engineering at the City College of New York, said, “[I]magine what would happen if [neuromodulation] shows an effect on long COVID.” He enthused over the idea of millions having neurostimulating devices in their homes. “Once you start stimulating for long COVID, you can start stimulating for other things like depression."

When I was researching for a previous post on neurostimulation for COVID-19, Bikson’s comment about having stimulators at home bounced out at me, for it’s unusual to see such a suggestion in print. Yet home neurostimulation or neuromodulation devices release you from clinic hours and physician availability restrictions that mean no relief on bad pain days; they accelerate actual healing; and they provide an alternative to medications — as I discovered after my brain injury.

Twice, car crashes have injured me. Both caused seatbelt injuries — shoulder strains — and whiplash; one caused a brain injury, which gave rise to learning what concussion is, how to treat brain injury effectively, three books, a website, and this blog.

Car crashes introduced me to physiotherapy, pain medications, heat or icing, acupuncture, tailored exercises, massage therapy, steroid injections in my neck and shoulder to treat migraines, and medical appointments becoming my job. Physiotherapy may include TENS, ultrasound, and a form of laser therapy. I avoided the kind that uses machines to stretch the neck, believing that my physiotherapist’s experienced hands could feel and respond better to how my muscles were reacting to her therapy than a machine could.

Back in the 1990s, the only power I had over the pain from soft tissue injuries and migraines was to take pain medications, which for me barely worked. As anyone injured in a car crash knows, pain and spasms can ratchet up on Friday nights and weekends when you have no access to your physiotherapist or acupuncturist. You have to tough it out until you can get squeezed in, at which point, you may no longer need the relief. But in the meantime, you’ve lost hours or days to increased pain and reduced muscle function. Back then, steroid injections were the top therapy when all else failed. This long-acting therapy waned in between doses, and I had to put up with increasing pain and immobility until the next injection, until the full course was done. At last, it eradicated my migraines, giving me the well-known side effects of an uncomfortable flushed face in the short term and increased weight for years.

Home devices with no side effects changed that.

For brain injury, home neurostimulation devices such as audiovisual entrainment and cranioelectrical stimulation not only alleviate fatigue and boost brain function, they also relax, reduce vigilance and anxiety, and improve sleep.

Similarly for muscle injuries, a well-designed home device such as the photobiomodulation therapy devices by BioFlex Laser, approved by Health Canada and the FDA, provide agency over pain and spasms. They lead to lasting healing and reduced use, for they don’t just reduce pain, they address the cause and heal it. I no longer fear Friday nights and weekends, for my neuromodulating and neurostimulating home devices reduce or stop the spasms and decrease the pain so that I can continue to function. Home devices buttress long-acting therapies, whether physical or psychological, providing relief between appointments when you need it. Learning how to use a home device is a bit scary as they're so different from meds. Yet they're safe, and healthcare professionals who prescribe them will provide manuals and/or personal guidance. Once you’re comfortable, you become your own expert, more skilled at using them for your own healing needs than the original prescriber.

Prescribing is essential. Although home neurostimulation and neuromodulation devices come with standard protocols that you can use for a variety of issues, your therapists can also add on protocols tailored to your needs. They can explain and monitor protocols that work systemically on the whole body in addition to your individualized local pain-reduction and mobility-enhancing ones. They can prescribe frequency of use each week, as well as explaining when to use systemic versus localized ones and how to use them in an emergency; for example, that time you gardened a bit too long or shoveled snow on a wintry day and your shoulders began to spasm or your knees cracked with pain. With prescribed home neuromodulation devices, those invigorating activities don’t have to mean being laid up for hours or days or avoided altogether.

Neurostimulation and neuromodulation, whether done at home or in the clinic, target the cause of pain, spasms, and reduced strength, so their use over time heals the injury substantially, as happened with me. My migraines became rare or none; spasms reduced in frequency and intensity; pain dropped considerably; strength began increasing. When these therapies are used immediately at the time of injury for the prescribed number of sessions, including at home between clinic visits, healing may be complete as if you weren’t injured in the first place. Home devices may not seem necessary to have long-term, then. But we all have sprained an ankle or hurt a knee. Having a home device prescribed at the time of a greater injury allows you to treat these everyday smaller injuries immediately without having to schlep to the ER or wait days to see your physiotherapist. Less wait means faster healing and less or no time off work. Using them may lead to not needing to see your doctor as often. That lessens the health care burden on doctors, therapists, and hospitals, freeing them up to see acute cases quicker.

Meanwhile, home devices free you from having to put up with pain, hours at the ER for every unrelenting spasm, and frequent health care visits to manage your chronic condition. They may even prevent your acute injury from becoming chronic. In short, home devices let you pursue what floats your boat.

Copyright ©2023 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy

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