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!

Nike Is Releasing a Durable Slip-On Sneaker Designed for Medical Professionals

monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images
monkeybusinessimages/iStock via Getty Images

Nike is known for releasing footwear that covers just about every activity under the moon—impact-absorbing running shoes, sleek soccer cleats, snazzy fashion statements, and so much more. Now, they’ve developed a sneaker for nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals who spend long shifts on their feet.

According to a press release, Nike sent designers to the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, where they learned from healthcare providers exactly what their jobs entail. Then, they used their findings to create the Nike Air Zoom Pulse, a “traditional clog made athletic.”

nike air zoom pulse
Nike

If you’ve ever gone sightseeing in a new city or even just taken a longer-than-expected afternoon stroll, you might have experienced firsthand that even your most comfortable walking shoes stop being so comfortable after a few miles of non-stop action—and nurses experience that type of exercise every time they go to work. During a regular 12-hour shift, a nurse might walk between four and five miles and sit for less than an hour. To account for that, the Nike Air Zoom Pulse features a full-rubber outsole, a flexible drop-in midsole, arch support, and a “heel fit so secure [that] it feels like a soft, snug hug.”

nike air zoom pulse
Nike

Since healthcare professionals also need a shoe durable enough to withstand spills of any kind, Nike coated the top of the Air Zoom Pulse with a polyurethane layer that’s easy to wipe down. It’s also a laceless slip-on, so people won’t have to worry about tripping on untied laces—and they’ll also be able to slip their shoes off for a quick nap in the staff room.

nike air zoom pulse
Nike

Six patients at the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital have contributed vibrant, colorful designs for the Air Zoom Pulse, which Nike will release for online orders (in versions that include its own colorways) starting December 7.

9 Facts About Narcolepsy

Korrawin/iStock via Getty Images
Korrawin/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone experiences occasional daytime sleepiness, but just a small fraction of the population knows what it’s like to have narcolepsy. The disorder is defined by persistent drowsiness throughout the day, and in some cases, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and the sudden loss of muscle control known as cataplexy. Having narcolepsy can make doing everyday activities difficult or dangerous for patients, but unlike some chronic conditions, it’s also easy to diagnose and treat. Here are some facts you should know about the condition.

1. There are two types of narcolepsy.

If everything you know about narcolepsy comes from movies and TV, you may think of it as the disease that causes people to go limp without warning. Sudden loss of muscle control is called cataplexy, and it’s the defining symptom of type 1 narcolepsy. Type 2 narcolepsy, on the other hand, is mainly characterized by fatigue. Losing motor function while awake isn’t a problem for those with type 2.

2. Type 1 narcolepsy stems from a chemical deficiency.

Almost every patient with type 1 narcolepsy has low levels of hypocretin. Hypocretin is a neurochemical that regulates the wake-sleep cycle. When there isn’t enough of this chemical in the brain, people have trouble staying conscious and alert throughout the day. Most people with the second, less severe type of narcolepsy have normal hypocretin levels, with about a third of them producing low or undetectable amounts. Type 2 narcoplepsy has been studied far less than type 1 of the disorder, and scientists are still figuring out what causes it.

3. The exact causes of narcolepsy aren’t always clear.

So why do some people’s brains produce less hypocretin than others? That part has been hard for scientists to figure out. One possible explanation is that certain autoimmune disorders cause the body to attack the healthy brain cells that make this chemical. This disorder can be the result of genetic and environmental factors. Although people with narcolepsy rarely pass it down to their offspring (this happens less than 1 percent of the time), the sleep condition does occasionally crop up in family clusters, suggesting there is sometimes a genetic component at play. Head trauma that impacts the area of the brain responsible for governing sleep can also lead to narcolepsy in rare cases.

4. There are tests to diagnose narcolepsy.

If patients believe they might have narcolepsy, their doctors might ask them to detail their sleep history and keep a record of their sleep habits. There are also a few tests potential narcoleptics can take to determine if they have the condition. During a polysomnography test, patients spend the night at a medical facility with electrodes attached to their heads to monitor their breathing, eye movement, and brain activity. A multiple sleep latency test is similar, except it gauges how long it takes patients to fall asleep during the day.

5. Strong emotions can trigger cataplexy.

Cataplectic spells can sometimes be predicted by triggers. In some patients, feeling strong emotions—whether they’re crying, laughing, angry, or stressed—is all it takes for them to lose muscle control. These triggers vary from patient to patient, and they can even affect the same person randomly. Some people deal with them by avoiding certain situations and closing themselves off emotionally, which can disrupt their social lives.

6. Narcolepsy can make sleep terrifying.

Narcoleptics don’t just worry about their disorder during their waking hours. When they’re trying to fall asleep at night or wake up in the morning, narcolepsy can complicate things. One symptom is experiencing vivid, dream-like hallucinations while transitioning in or out of consciousness. These visions are often scary and may involve an intruder in the room with the sleeper. If they happen as the patient falls asleep, the hallucinations are called hypnagogic, and if they occur as they wake up, they’re hypnopompic.

A related symptom is sleep paralysis. This happens when a person’s brain cuts off muscle control of their body before they’re fully asleep or as they’re waking up. This combined with hypnagogic or hypnopompic nightmares can cause frightening experiences that are sometimes confused for real encounters.

7. Narcoleptics sometimes do activities half-asleep.

To outside observers, narcolepsy is sometimes hard to spot. A narcoleptic patient overcome by sleepiness won’t necessarily pass out in the middle of what they’re doing. Some act out “automatic behavior,” which means they continue with their actions—whether that’s walking, driving, or typing—with limited consciousness. This can cause poor performance at work or school, and in worst case scenarios, accidents while driving a car or operating machinery.

8. Harriet Tubman may have had narcolepsy.

One of the most famous likely narcoleptics in history is Harriet Tubman. The African American abolitionist was known to suffer from what were probably sudden narcoleptic episodes. The condition may have stemmed from the severe head trauma she sustained when a slave master threw an iron at another slave and hit her instead. The injury left her with permanent brain damage: In addition to narcolepsy, she also experienced chronic seizures and migraines throughout her life.

9. Medications and lifestyle changes are common narcolepsy treatments.

Though there’s no way to cure narcolepsy completely, there are many treatment options available. Taking medication is one of the most common ways to manage the disorder. Stimulants such as modafinil and armodafinil can be used to combat mild sleepiness, while amphetamines are often prescribed for more severe forms of fatigue. For hallucinations and sleep paralysis, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors—drugs that suppress REM sleep—can help.

As an alternative or supplementary treatment to medications, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes. Sticking to a sleep schedule, exercising regularly, avoiding nicotine and alcohol, and taking naps during the day can all reduce the symptoms of narcolepsy.

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