Most wearables are riddled with pain points: Their battery lives are too short, and their interfaces are too confusing. But today Cur is revealing a wearable that promises to eliminate pain—both physical and metaphorical—for people who respond to TENS, a technology that uses electrical stimulation to stop pain at its source.
Perhaps you’ve already used a TENS device for your bad back or aching knee. The technology was patented in 1974 for outpatient use, but even today, some 40 years later, TENS machines remain unwieldy. Invariably, a bulky control unit connects to four snaky wires terminating in electrode patches that you place on your skin. It’s not the kind of thing you’d wear to a dinner party.
But the new Cur wearable, priced at $149 for pre-launch customers, eliminates the wires and Walkman-sized controller entirely. Instead, Cur (pronounced “cure”) sticks directly to your skin, and all the important modulation of electrical signals is automatically controlled by onboard sensors.
“Now we can bring TENS in a way that allows you to apply it like a Band-Aid,” says Cur founder Shaun Rahimi. “You put it over your body, and within five seconds it measures muscle vibrations, and uses those vibrations to adjust the amplitude—the strength of the treatment.”
The story behind the story:Data shows one in five Americans suffers from chronic pain. Over-the-counter analgesics are weak responses to debilitating suffering, and hardcore prescription drugs have too many side effects. Enter TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It doesn’t work for everyone, and the American Academy of Neurology gave it a thumbs down for lower back pain. But when the treatment does work, it delivers relief that many people swear by.
And now with Curs it comes in a package that’s both discreet and relatively plug-and-play. “It’s designed to give a ten times more effective response than any over-the-counter treatment you can buy at Wallgreens, and it’s 100 times faster,” Rahimi says. “TENS, when you apply it the right way, works in seconds in some cases.”
Beyond ‘feeling the tingle’
When it comes to our health, we like to know how treatments actually work. But like so many other medical therapies, experts don’t actually know how TENS provides relief. The most popular theory says that electrical impulses block the pain signals that are sent to the brain. Researchers also believe that the impulses can stimulate the brain’s natural endorphins.
Whatever the case, traditional TENS devices have always required deliberate signal modulation by the user. That’s an imperfect process fraught with human error, and many users typically underpower their TENS signals, thinking if they “feel the tingle,” they must have set their machine correctly.
The Cur system, as it turns out, is designed to eliminate all the guesswork. The control unit, which sits atop a small patch with two conductive adhesive pads underneath, includes an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a bio-impedence sensor. All these sensors detect where the patch has been placed on the body along with muscle twitches, contractions and electrical activity.
“It’s a two-way element that allows it to adjust and deliver the right setting—in the right way, at the right time,” Rahimi says.
Goodbye Vicodin, hello TENS
After Cur completes its $149 pre-order period, it will cost $299 at retail. Rahimi projects it will be ready for that widespread distribution sometime in December, but the device must first pass FDA approval.
That’s right: This isn’t a 510(K) exempt, “low-risk” wellness device. Nonetheless, Rahimi says that Cur need only meet the established precedents for other TENS devices, and this particular FDA certification typically takes about four months.
For your $299, you’ll get a single Cur control unit, and a two-month supply of adhesive pads (that’s four pads, each lasting two weeks). The control unit comes in a carrying case that doubles as a charger. Battery life for the Cur puck itself is three hours, and the charger-cum-carrying case holds enough juice for 30 hours of charge.
Cur comes with a money-back guarantee, which would seem essential for not only a somewhat “alternative” treatment, but also a version of TENS that costs considerably more than traditional machines. But as Rahimi continually drove home during our interview, Cur provides much more freedom of movement and social dignity, and will speak directly to people who’ve had it with heavy drugs.
“How do we take people who are going from Aleve to Vicodin back to Aleve? If we give them a TENS device and an Aleve package together, we can replace the Vicodin altogether,” he says.
Rahimi wouldn’t let me try Cur myself, because he’s in the process of seeking FDA approval. But what do our readers think? Have you tried TENS and does it work for you? Share your thoughts in a comment below.
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Jon is the Editor-in-Chief of PCWorld and TechHive. He's been covering all manner of consumer hardware since 1995.