11 Pain-Relief Devices You Can Buy With Your FSA Money

iStock.com/andriano_cz
iStock.com/andriano_cz

Pain—from stress, from staring at computer screens, from heavy lifting and repetitive motion—is ever-present in too many lives, whether it’s in the form of knee pain, hip pain, back pain, or chronic headaches. It may feel like you’re in constant battle with it, tamping it down temporarily, only for it to seep back into your muscles, joints, and nerves. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools available to help you win the war, and your flexible spending account (FSA) can help.

The online FSA Store takes the guesswork out of what you can buy with your pre-tax FSA funds, only featuring FSA-eligible items. Among the products featured are plenty of devices and gadgets aimed specifically at relieving pain—most of them drug-free. And with the grace period for many 2018 plans coming up on March 15, 2019, now is the time to invest in some of the pain-relief devices you might not otherwise want to splurge on.

Here are 11 FSA-eligible products that can provide relief for your aches and pains.

1. Best Device for Chronic Pain: Caring Mill Wireless Tens Therapy Unit

If you've ever hit your thumb with a hammer and then immediately shoved it in your mouth, you've unwittingly tested what scientists call the Gate Control Theory of pain perception. First proposed in the 1960s by Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall, the hypothesis argues that the nervous system can only carry so much information to the brain at once, and non-painful stimulus, like pressure or vibration, can block the body's pain signals. When you suck your throbbing thumb, the non-painful nerve stimulation essentially "shuts the gate" on those pain signals, preventing them from flowing through your central nervous system to your brain.

That’s the principle behind the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit—a battery-powered, pulsing electrode device that you attach to whatever part of your body that’s experiencing pain. The electric pulses from the TENS unit provide the gentle stimulation that helps close the gate, soothing tense and sore muscles. There are a number of TENS devices on the market, but the Caring Mill version is an excellent choice for all budgets. With 15 intensity levels and five pulse modes—massage, acupuncture, tapping, scraping, and combination—it can be used on the back, shoulders, waist, neck, arms, and legs. And it’s portable, so you can take it anywhere.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $35.

2. Best Device for Headaches And Sinus Pain: Intellinetix Vibrating Pain Relief Mask

Doesn’t your face deserve a massage? This wearable, rechargeable device ticks a lot of boxes for reducing pain. Designed for anyone with migraines, headaches, eye strain, or sinus pain, it blocks light to decrease sensitivity and vibrates to enhance blood circulation, while small beads inside the mask create a gentle massage effect around the eyes. And it’s freezable, giving you cooling relief. The battery lasts about 45 minutes, which should be plenty of time to soothe your pain. Since you’re reading this on a screen right now, there’s a good chance you need this mask for your inevitable computer-related eye strain.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $60.

3. Best Device for Acupuncture Enthusiasts: Kanjo Memory Acupressure Mat Sat With Pillow

Yes, it’s a pillow and mat based on the principles of acupuncture, which studies have shown can reduce chronic pain. The raised nodes press against the body in a way that’s similar to acupuncture needles (though they don’t puncture your skin), targeting specific points on the body. While reviewers suggest it takes a little bit to get used to, the pillow relieves neck tension and headaches, while lying on the mat reduces shoulder and back pain. (The FSA Store also offers a version that’s designed specifically for foot pain. ) As a bonus, the set is stylish enough that you won’t feel the need to hide it in the back of your closet.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $80.

4. Best Device for General Pain: Happineck Comfort Bundle

Happineck’s Comfort Bundle is the perfect solution for an empty medicine cabinet. This cornucopia of must-haves is aimed at total body care, with solutions for muscle aches, tired feet, joint pain, neck pain, headaches, and stress. The starter kit features 10 items—including a corn/callous trimmer, a heating pad, an eye mask, a reusable cold compress, and an orthopedic neck support—it’s a great way to make sure you already have the very thing you need when the pain strikes.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $164.

5. Best Device for Insect Bites: Therapik Mosquito Bite Pain Relief Device

Ideal for anyone who plans on stepping outside anytime this spring or summer, this clever device uses heat to neutralize the pain and itching associated with mosquito bites (as well as those of 20,000 other bugs and stinging sea creatures). All you have to do is hold the tip of the pen-like gadget to the area of the skin where you were bitten. In a 2011 study on using heat to stop the itch, most saw their pain go down within a minute, and felt no pain after 10 minutes. That makes this the kind of device you wish you didn’t need but will be glad you packed with your camping gear or beach bag.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $13.

6. Best Device for Muscle Spasms, Arthritis, and Healing: Revive Light Therapy Pain System

Light therapy isn’t just a treatment for seasonal affective disorder. A number of pain relief devices—as well as acne treatments—use phototherapy, too. Though scientists haven't worked out the exact mechanism yet, infrared light therapy appears to stimulate the release of nitric oxide, dilating the blood vessels and improving circulation. Studies have found that infrared therapy can help relieve pain, stimulate healing, and reduce inflammation. This device uses 60 infrared and red LED lights to improve circulation and relieve muscle pain with handheld convenience. Just hold it over sore spots to feel relief.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $100.

7. Best Device for Hand Pain: Deep Penetrating Light Arthritis Pain Mitt

Along the same wavelength, this other light therapy product envelopes your entire hand to beat back pain from arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and the aches associated with repetitive stress. Despite its looks, you can’t play baseball or take cobbler out of the oven with it, but the mitt’s infrared therapy boasts the same non-invasive, drug-free pain relief method as the other reVive light therapy kit above, with a design that won’t slip off your hands.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $180.

8. Best Device for Kids in Pain: Thermal-Aid Zoo Animals

Regular heating pads and ice packs have nothing on this friendly hippo, which can be microwaved or frozen to give your kiddo some relief. That goes for sprained ankles and flu aches alike—it’s washable, so you don’t have to stress about germs. It's stuffed with corn, which retains its temperature longer than other fillings but doesn’t absorb odors. (Don’t worry, it won’t start popping when you heat it.) If hippos aren’t your little one’s fave, there are also koalas, bunnies, and more to choose from so they can get the cuddly pain relief they need.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $20.

9. Best Device for Pain While Exercising or Sleeping: Quell Wearable Pain Relief Starter Kit

Quell promises a TENS device five times stronger than the standard over-the-counter unit, using electronic pulses to get your brain to block out pain. No matter where your pain is, the device is designed to wear on the upper calf and can be worn while exercising, sleeping, or going about your day. It’s sleek enough to wear under your clothes and comes with an app for tracking your therapy, daily steps, and even how long you spend in different sleeping positions. At least one reputable publication swears by it.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $249.

10. Best Device for Foot and Leg Pain: Ultimate Foot Circulator With Remote

Do. Not. Neglect. Your. Feet. The Ultimate Foot Circulator is an electrical stimulator that targets feet with a moving platform. It sends electric pulses through the bottom of your feet and flexes your ankles for you. It also comes with extra TENS pads for your legs. With 15 presets, you can sit back and let it do its thing without lifting a toe. Keep this device by your couch and pack it in your suitcase for trips, because once you try it, you won’t want to be without it.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $220.

11. Best Device for Sore Feet: Theraband Foot Roller

If you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a device for your sore feet, a massage roller is a great low-tech, low-budget alternative. Health experts don’t know exactly why rolling out muscles helps ease pain, but research suggests that it can help increase muscle flexibility, reduce fatigue, and more. At under 10 bucks, this handy foot roller (sorry) is one of the cheapest ways to get a little pain relief in an area most of us neglect.

And if you’re looking for relief from plantar fasciitis pain, the FSA Store also offers a roller just for that purpose.

With any roller, just realize that “Hurts So Good” is a song by John Mellencamp—not the sensation you’re going for. If it hurts badly, you’re probably rolling too hard.

Buy it on the FSA Store for $10.

For even more ideas for how to spend down your healthcare account this year, check out our list of creative ways to use your FSA funds.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

iStock.com/Techin24
iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

Does Having Allergies Mean That You Have A Decreased Immunity?

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

Tirumalai Kamala:

No, allergy isn't a sign of decreased immunity. It is a specific type of immune dysregulation. Autoimmunity, inflammatory disorders such as IBS and IBD, and even cancer are examples of other types of immune dysregulation.

Quality and target of immune responses and not their strength is the core issue in allergy. Let's see how.

—Allergens—substances known to induce allergy—are common. Some such as house dust mite and pollen are even ubiquitous.
—Everyone is exposed to allergens yet only a relative handful are clinically diagnosed with allergy.
—Thus allergens don't inherently trigger allergy. They can but only in those predisposed to allergy, not in everyone.
—Each allergic person makes pathological immune responses to not all but to only one or a few structurally related allergens while the non-allergic don't.
—Those diagnosed with allergy aren't necessarily more susceptible to other diseases.

If the immune response of each allergic person is selectively distorted when responding to specific allergens, what makes someone allergic? Obviously a mix of genetic and environmental factors.

[The] thing is allergy prevalence has spiked in recent decades, especially in developed countries, [which is] too short a time period for purely genetic mutation-based changes to be the sole cause, since that would take multiple generations to have such a population-wide effect. That tilts the balance towards environmental change, but what specifically?

Starting in the 1960s, epidemiologists began reporting a link between infections and allergy—[the] more infections in childhood, [the] less the allergy risk [this is called hygiene hypothesis]. Back then, microbiota weren't even a consideration but now we have learned better, so the hygiene hypothesis has expanded to include them.

Essentially, the idea is that the current Western style of living that rapidly developed over the 20th century fundamentally and dramatically reduced lifetime, and, crucially, early life exposure to environmental microorganisms, many of which would have normally become part of an individual's gut microbiota after they were born.

How could gut microbiota composition changes lead to selective allergies in specific individuals? Genetic predisposition should be taken as a given. However, natural history suggests that such predisposition transitioned to a full fledged clinical condition much more rarely in times past.

Let's briefly consider how that equation might have fundamentally changed in recent times. Consider indoor sanitation, piped chlorinated water, C-sections, milk formula, ultra-processed foods, lack of regular contact with farm animals (as a surrogate for nature) and profligate, ubiquitous, even excessive use of antimicrobial products such as antibiotics, to name just a few important factors.

Though some of these were beneficial in their own way, epidemiological data now suggests that such innovations in living conditions also disrupted the intimate association with the natural world that had been the norm for human societies since time immemorial. In the process such dramatic changes appear to have profoundly reduced human gut microbiota diversity among many, mostly in developed countries.

Unbeknownst to us, an epidemic of absence*, as Moises Velasquez-Manoff evocatively puts it, has thus been invisibly taking place across many human societies over the 20th century in lock-step with specific changes in living standards.

Such sudden and profound reduction in gut microbiota diversity thus emerges as the trigger that flips the normally hidden predisposition in some into clinically overt allergy. Actual mechanics of the process remain the subject of active research.

We (my colleague and I) propose a novel predictive mechanism for how disruption of regulatory T cell** function serves as the decisive and non-negotiable link between loss of specific microbiota and inflammatory disorders such as allergies. Time (and supporting data) will tell if we are right.

* An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases Reprint, Moises Velasquez-Manoff

** a small indispensable subset of CD4+ T cells.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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