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!

The Long Stride of Tony Little, Infomercial Titan

Mike Coppola, Getty Images for MTV
Mike Coppola, Getty Images for MTV

Tony Little didn’t see it coming. It was 1983, and the aspiring bodybuilder and future Gazelle pitchman was living in Tampa Bay, Florida, winding down his training for the Mr. America competition that was coming up in just six weeks. While driving to the gym, Little stopped at a red light and waited. Suddenly, a school bus materialized on his left, plowing into Little's vehicle and crumpling his driver’s side door.

Dazed and running on adrenaline, Little got out and sprinted over to find the bus was full of children. After seeing that none of the kids were seriously hurt, he promptly passed out. When Little later awoke, he was in the hospital, where he was handed a laundry list of the injuries he had sustained. There were two herniated discs, a cracked vertebrae, a torn rotator cuff, and a dislocated knee. He struggled to maintain his physique in the weight room and made only a perfunctory appearance at that year's Mr. America competition. Little's dreams of becoming a professional bodybuilder had been derailed courtesy of an errant school bus, whose driver had been drunk.

Though it took some time, Little eventually overcame the setback, pivoting from his original goal of being a champion bodybuilder to becoming one of the most recognizable pitchmen in the history of televised advertising. Before he did that, however, he would have to recover from another car accident.

 

For someone so devoted to physical achievement, Little was constantly being undercut by obstacles. During a high school football game, Little—who was a star player on his team in Ohio—ended up tearing the cartilage in his knee after he collided with future NFL player Rob Lytle. From that point on, Little's knee popped out of place whenever he stepped onto the field or went to gym class.

Tony Little is photographed at the premiere of Vh1's 'Celebrity Paranormal Project' in Hollywood, California in 2006
John M. Heller, Getty Images

In There’s Always a Way, his 2009 autobiography, Little wrote about how that injury—and the loss of a potential athletic scholarship—caused him to act out. A friend of his stole a Firebird and took Little for a joyride. When they were caught, Little took the blame; as he was under 18, Little figured he would get by with a slap on the wrist, while his older friend might be tried and convicted of a serious crime as an adult. According to Little, the judge gave him a pass on the condition that he relocate to Tampa Bay, where he could live with his uncle and put some distance between himself and the negative influences in his life. Little agreed.

Because of his previous injury, Little was unable to play football after making the move to Florida; instead, he devoted himself to his new high school’s weight room, where a bad knee was not nearly as limiting. After graduating, he pursued bodybuilding, earning the titles of Junior Mr. America and Mr. Florida. Little envisioned a future where he would be a fitness personality, selling his own line of supplements when he wasn't competing professionally.

The school bus changed all that. Little, who was now unable to train at the level such serious competition required, retreated to his condo, where he said he relied on painkillers to numb the physical and emotional pain of the accident. More misfortune followed: Little accidentally sat in a pool of chemicals at a friend’s manufacturing plant, suffering burns. He also had a bout with meningitis.

While Little was convalescing from this string of ailments and accidents, he saw Jane Fonda on television, trumpeting her line of workout videos. Little was intrigued: Maybe he didn’t need to have bodybuilding credentials to reach a wider audience. Maybe his enthusiastic approach to motivating people would be enough.

By now it was the mid-1980s, and a very good time to get into televised pitching. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the Cable Communications Policy Act, which deregulated paid airtime for cable networks. Herbalife was the first to sign up, airing an infomercial for their line of nutritional products. Soon, stations were broadcasting all kinds of paid programs. Exercise advice and equipment pitches were abundant, a kind of throwback to department stores that used to feature product demonstrations. It was not enough to read about a Soloflex, which used resistance bands to strengthen muscles. It was better to see it in action.

Now that he was back in shape, Little was ready to make his mark. He was told by his local cable access channel that he could buy 15 half-hours of airtime for $5500. To raise the money, Little started a cleaning service for gyms and health clubs. After airing installments of an exercise program, he was picked up by the Home Shopping Network (HSN). Little made his HSN debut in 1987. With his energetic pitch and trademark ponytail, he sold 400 workout videos in four hours.

 

Little was on the home-shopping and infomercial circuit for years before landing his breakthrough project. In 1996, the Ohio-based company Fitness Quest was preparing to launch their Gazelle, an elliptical trainer that could raise the heart rate without any impact on joints. People used their hands and feet to move in a long stride that felt effortless.

Little felt he would be the perfect spokesperson for the Gazelle and entered into an arrangement with Bob Schnabel, the company's president. The night before the infomercial was scheduled to shoot, Little was driving when he got into another serious car accident that required 200 stitches in his face. Little called Schnabel to break the news, and was told he’d have to be replaced.

Tony Little demonstrates a Gazelle during an MTV upfront presentation in New York in 2016
Mike Coppola, Getty Images for MTV

Undaunted, Little flew from Florida to Ohio to speak to Schnabel in person. By insisting that he could make the story inspirational (and that he could cover up his injuries with make-up), Little managed to convince Schnabel to proceed with the infomercial as planned. The Gazelle ended up with $1.5 billion in revenue, with Little’s other ventures—Cheeks sandals, bison meat, and a therapeutic pillow—bringing the total sales of his endorsed products to more than $3 billion. Little later reprised his Gazelle pitch for a Geico commercial, which also served as a stealth ad for the machine—which is still on the market.

While pitching wound up being relatively low-impact, it was not completely without problems. Little once said that the accumulation of appearances—more than 10,000 in all—has done some damage to his neck because of constantly having to swivel his head between the camera and the model demonstrating his product.

Those appearances have made Little synonymous with the machine. In 2013, the Smithsonian's National Zoo wondered what to name their new baby gazelle. The answer: Little Tony.

What You Should Know About Necrotizing Fasciitis, the 'Flesh-Eating' Infection

DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images
DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images

You’ve likely stumbled across one of several recent news stories describing cases of necrotizing fasciitis, or “flesh-eating bacteria.” The condition can follow exposure to certain bacteria in public beaches, pools, or rivers. This July, a man in Okaloosa County, Florida with a compromised immune system died after going into local waters. Just two weeks before, a 12-year-old girl was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis after scraping her foot in Pompano Beach, Florida. The stories and their disturbing imagery spread on social media, inviting questions over the condition and how it can be avoided.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, necrotizing fasciitis can be caused by different strains of bacteria, with group A Streptococcus (strep) being the most common. When group A strep enters the body through a break in the skin like a cut or burn, a serious and rapidly spreading infection can develop. People will have a high fever, severe pain at the site of exposure, and eventual tissue destruction, which gives the condition its name. Necrotizing is to cause the death of tissue, while fasciitis is inflammation of the fascia, or tissue under the skin.

Because necrotizing fasciitis spreads so quickly, it’s crucial for people to seek medical attention immediately if they see early symptoms: rapid swelling and redness that spreads from a cut or burn, fever, and severe pain. Doctors can diagnose the infection using tissue biopsies, blood work, or imaging of the infected site, though they’ll almost always initiate treatment immediately. IV antibiotics, surgery to excise dead tissue, and blood transfusions are all used in an attempt to resolve the infection.

Even with care, necrotizing fasciitis can lead to complications like organ failure or sepsis. An estimated one in three people who are diagnosed with the condition die.

Fortunately, the condition is extremely rare in the United States, with an estimated 700 to 1200 cases confirmed each year. The CDC acknowledges, however, that the number is likely an low estimate.

Because group A strep can be found in water, the CDC advises people to avoid going into public waters with any kind of open wound. This applies to both public beaches and rivers as well as swimming pools or hot tubs. Chlorination is no guarantee against group A strep. Any cut or other wound should always be cleaned with soap and water. It’s especially important that people with compromised immune systems from illness, diabetes, cancer, or another conditions be exceedingly careful.

Rising ocean temperatures may make necrotizing fasciitis more common, unfortunately. A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that warmer water temperatures in Delaware Bay has allowed another kind of bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, to flourish, resulting in five cases of necrotizing fasciitis in 2017 and 2018. Previously, only one case had been confirmed since 2008. Florida is also known to harbor group A strep in seawater.

But, owing to its rarity, necrotizing fasciitis should not overly concern people with healthy immune systems and unbroken skin. If you suffer a cut with a reddened area accompanied by severe pain and fever, however, seek medical evaluation right away.

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