Earlier this year at CES, NeuroMetrix announced Quell, a band worn around the upper calf designed to provide systemic relief of chronic pain which is controlled by your smartphone or tablet. While neurostimulators are nothing new, Quell is the first of its kind that has been cleared by the FDA to be used while sleeping. In fact, it has a built in accelerometer to sense if you’ve laying down to sleep and will adjust the therapy so it won’t keep you awake, but still be effective in masking pain. It’s also the first to be completely controlled wirelessly with a mobile app.
Quell was kind enough to send us a review unit to try out. As it’s rare for Medgadget to receive a therapeutic device to review, we were particularly excited to see if Quell could help us cope with those painful reminders of what happens if you don’t take care of your bones or fail at a stupid move on the basketball court. And as a therapeutic device, we must remind that this review is not meant to be considered medical advice; please talk to your doctor before deciding to spend $250 on Quell.
With that out of the way, we examine: can Quell be an effective alternative to popping pills?
Design and Hardware
From afar, the Quell looks like a regular black and neon blue neoprene sport leg band, which is an intentional design choice so you don’t stand out like a futuristic cyborg. It’s secured with velcro to allow to a comfortable, but snug fit. The band itself contains a pocket for the electronics portion of the device and cutouts to connect the electrodes. It’s an attractive, modern design lacking the impersonal and sometimes intimidating look of other TENS units and neurostimulators, perhaps to convey the fact that Quell is meant to be used in the comfort of home.
The electronics unit of Quell is a slim black and neon blue plastic box with a groove near the middle to allow for it to bend to the curvature of the leg. A single button on its face turns the device on and off and controls the intensity of the therapy, which is displayed on a bank of six white LEDs at the top of the unit. Rounding off the device is a micro-USB port for charging and two snap button connectors for the electrodes.
The electrodes are thin white strips with four patches of conductive gel that send the electrical pulses into the leg. The electrodes are meant to last for about two weeks (depending on how dirty/moisturized your leg is) before they need to be replaced. Quell comes with two electrodes, but you’ll eventually have to shell out $30 for another pair.
Use and Effectiveness
When you turn on Quell for the first time, you must go through a brief calibration process. This process establishes a baseline for the intensity of therapy delivered and helps ensure that the amount you receive is sufficient, but not uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the device can only save a calibration for one user at a time, something that couples in pain should keep in mind. Once the calibration is complete, you simply press the single button to turn on Quell and start a 60 minute therapy session.
While Quell has been simplified to a single button, there is a small learning curve to using it. To increase the intensity of the therapy, you hold down the button, and to decrease it, you press and release the button. To stop the therapy early, you press the button four times.
Pressing the button when Quell is off your leg allows you to see the battery charge level on the bank of LEDs. The battery, by the way, is rated to last up to 40 hours on a charge. This, however, depends on the intensity of the therapy; our testing found that the battery lasted approximately 30 hours on a fairly high setting (there doesn’t seem to be a way to see your actual intensity level).
So, what exactly does Quell feel like once it’s turned on? The sensation can best be described as tingling or buzzing, a more intense version of what it feels like when your leg falls asleep or you bump your funny bone. It is this tingling that your brain is supposed to focus on processing instead of your pain. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), our editor Scott was not experiencing chronic pain, so he enlisted the help of a couple biomedical engineer friends with chronic back pain to help test Quell. While they found Quell easy to use, unfortunately, they didn’t experience significant relief after using Quell for a couple weeks. They hypothesize that their lack of success is likely due to a couple of factors. First, while intensive nerve stimulation is a medically-validated therapy, the stimulation may be more effective if it were localized closer to the area of pain; we just weren’t seeing a systemic effect. Second, the stimulation options are extremely limited; one friend felt that the ability to further customize therapy could make finding a sweet spot for pain relief much easier.
Take our results with a grain of salt, though. Our sample size is ludicrously small and unscientific, and as always, you’ll want to consult with your doctor to see if you might have better results than our test subjects.
Our reviewers also wanted to note that Quell is appropriate for chronic pain: users experiencing soreness from exercise or temporary pain from a superficial wound will likely not experience significant relief.
Data and Connectivity
Quell can sync via Bluetooth to an iOS device for further functionality. The app is pretty limited though; actual control of Quell via the app is limited to toggling the automatic restart feature and sleep mode on and off. The app can also display a timer showing elapsed/remaining time left of a therapy session, a history of your therapy sessions, and a reminder to change the battery or the electrode strip. We think some users might have better luck with pain relief if the app could allow them to tweak their sessions to an optimal setting.
- Utilizes scientifically-validated and medically-safe therapy for pain relief
- Aesthetically-pleasing and portable design
- Connects to an iPhone via Bluetooth to track sessions
- Did not experience significant pain relief after two weeks of use
- Users with better success might have difficulty finding the optimal setting due to limited programming options on both the device and app
- You’ll need to spend $30 on extra electrode strips
YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). We unfortunately failed to find significant pain relief after using this $250 device for a few weeks, but much more testing is needed before we can come to a definite conclusion. From a design standpoint, it’s a pretty cool-looking device, though.
More info and link to online store: Quell Website
Scott wishes to thank Preeti Shanbhag and John Miller for their assistance with this review.