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

Intellinetix / Kanjo / Amazon
Intellinetix / Kanjo / Amazon

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 FSA Store and the FSA section of Amazon take 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 2019 plans coming up on March 15, 2020, 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; $35

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: FSA Store

2. Best Device for Headaches And Sinus Pain: Intellinetix Vibrating Pain Relief Mask; $87

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: Amazon

3. Best Device for Acupuncture Enthusiasts: Kanjo Memory Acupressure Mat Sat With Pillow; $80

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: Amazon

4. Best Device for General Pain: Happineck Comfort Bundle; $150

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: FSA Store 

5. Best Device for Insect Bites: Therapik Mosquito Bite Pain Relief Device; $13

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: FSA Store

6. Best Device for Muscle Spasms, Arthritis, and Healing: Revive Light Therapy Pain System; $65

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: Amazon

7. Best Device for Hand Pain: Deep Penetrating Light Arthritis Pain Mitt; $116

Along the same wavelength, this other light therapy product envelops 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: Amazon

8. Best Device for Kids in Pain: Thermal-Aid Zoo Animals; $20

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: FSA Store

9. Best Device for Pain While Exercising or Sleeping: Quell Wearable Pain Relief Starter Kit; $220

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: Amazon

10. Best Device for Foot and Leg Pain: Ultimate Foot Circulator With Remote; $220

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: FSA Store

11. Best Device for Sore Feet: Theraband Foot Roller; $13

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 15 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: Amazon 

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!

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and 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!

6 Effective Tips for Coping With Panic Attacks

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels
Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

If you suddenly find yourself having an abrupt feeling of fear paired with anxiety or an overwhelming sense that you are losing control, you might be experiencing a panic attack. A panic attack, which can last for minutes or hours, can manifest in physical symptoms that some sufferers compare to a heart attack. And if you've ever had one, you're far from alone.

Each year, up to 11 percent of Americans experience panic attacks—though that percentage could rise in 2020. Using Google Trends, researchers have noted a significant increase in searches related to panic attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it’s not entirely conclusive, it's clear that people need to be paying attention to their mental health right now as much as they are their physical well-being.

“I have seen a huge increase in those experiencing panic attacks and other forms of anxiety during lockdown,” psychotherapist and coach Sarie Taylor tells Mental Floss. She attributes it to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic.

If you're prone to panic attacks, here are several methods you can use to help cope. Keep in mind that these techniques are not mutually exclusive, so you might find that practicing two or three of them at once is the fastest way to alleviate the symptoms brought on by a panic attack. Nor should you become frustrated if they don't always work for you. Every person and every panic attack is different. “Do not be disheartened if they do not always seem to work for you," Taylor says. "Your mind will always eventually settle regardless.”

1. Control your breathing.

Changes in breathing patterns and shortness of breath during panic attacks are common, but it can heighten the feeling of suffocation that some people experience. To address this, try common breathing techniques such as the 4-7-8 exercise [PDF] or roll breathing (also known as abdominal breathing). Deep breathing, or breath focus, is a great strategy to lower your heart rate, stabilize your blood pressure, and lower your stress levels. If you can control your breathing, the panic may subside and you can reduce some of your other symptoms.

2. Connect with your current environment.

To de-escalate the overwhelming emotions that often come with a panic attack and bring your focus to the present, it helps to engage your senses. You may be able to do this through visualization exercises, like imagining yourself sitting by the ocean or wherever you're happiest. Another effective method is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, where you acknowledge five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This can be a great way to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts and focus on the sensations you can physically experience in that moment instead.

3. Grab an ice cube.

If you feel that breathing and relaxation exercises don’t bring enough relief, some people are able to lessen the effects of a panic with ice cubes. Holding an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can, or putting it inside your mouth until it melts, brings enough discomfort to divert your body’s response away from panic. If you put the ice cube in your mouth, it forces your body to produce more saliva, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and halting the fight-or-flight response that panic attacks typically trigger.

According to Taylor, when you hold something stimulating, it appeals to the senses and becomes difficult to ignore. This means that your attention goes to the ice’s temperature and texture. Like all methods, it’s not equally effective for everyone and experiences may vary.

4. Relax your muscles.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an anxiety and stress management technique that relieves tension from the body [PDF]. The practice is done by lying down, tensing a muscle group for up to 10 seconds, relaxing it, then moving on to another muscle group. You can start from head to toe or vice versa, or begin with your hands and then work your way through your body. Concentrating on how your muscles tense and relax helps you let go of the negative feelings a panic attack brings on.

5. Challenge your brain.

It’s not easy to shake off negative thoughts, especially as they increasingly worsen. To force your brain to think of something else, engage in small mental exercises. This includes anything from counting backward from 100 in threes or reciting the alphabet backward to counting how many letters there are in your full name or reciting all the colors you can think of or see. By completing these exercises, even imperfectly, you can distract yourself enough to potentially reduce your symptoms.

The effectiveness of such exercises depends on how invested you are in your anxious thoughts. “The earlier you notice your mind getting busy, the easier these techniques may be,” Taylor says.

6. Take your prescribed medications.

Seeing a doctor and getting treatment for frequent panic attacks is important because they can become worse over time. There are a variety of medications that can help with panic attacks, but according to the Mayo Clinic, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective choice for panic attacks. Take your medication(s) as prescribed, and try to be aware of how well and quickly they work for you, so that you can talk with your doctor to make sure you're taking the best medication for your symptoms.