Play Away Pain: Therapeutic Pain Management Wearable that Acts like a Game

Article by Alison K. Lanier | 889 words

With wearable fitness devices becoming more numerous and more intricate with each passing upgrade, the health and fitness market for devices like Fitbit is only getting brighter by expanding into pain management. As wearable devices helped us train and trim through app systems, Valedo appeared in reviews at the end of January with a different, more therapeutic twist on the wearable fitness trend.

Hocoma’s History of Innovation

Hocoma Inc, the company behind the Valedo, has a decades-long history of developing cutting-edge movement-therapy tech that can be used for pain management. Its Lokomat, for example, focuses on “robotic treadmill training of neurological patients with movement disorders.” According to Hocoma’s website, the Lokomat “has been available on the market since 2001 and has been a crucial improvement in the art and science of locomotion therapy.”

Hocoma's Lokomat pain management wearable

Hocoma’s Lokomat. Credit: Aim2Walk.ca

Another device, the Erigo, is a tilt-and-stepping system to help longtime bedridden patients or patients with mobility issues caused by neurological disorders. Hocoma’s most recent innovation before Valedo was the ArmeoBoom in 2009. This extra-clinical device is a “product specifically designed for outpatient clinics and home-settings,” which extends the Armeo’s clinical-level upper-body rehabilitation to the home.

Valedo’s Clinical-Level Back Therapy Enters the Home

Now, Hocoma is designing the Valedo to specifically address back pain and strengthen back muscles, especially in desk-bound workers or individuals who suffer from chronic back discomfort. It is a simple, Apple-sleek device with two wireless sensors that are placed on the lower back and chest. These sensors communicate “even the smallest movements of the trunk and pelvis” as the wearer plays the Valedo’s companion game on a tablet or phone. (It’s currently available only on iOS devices, but an Android version of the app is coming later this year.)

The sensors translate the player’s actual movement to the player’s avatar, who goes through a series of game challenges that are, in fact, back exercises in disguise. “Back exercises are not just fun; they’re addictive,” says Valedo’s homepage.

Valedo pain management Game Screenshot

The player flies their character around to collect jewels. The robot begins steaming up if the player is moving incorrectly. Credit: Recode.net

The Valedo is a thumb-sized wearable making its way out of the clinical-only sphere. It has been in use for over five years at rehab centers and by physical therapists for pain management, according to Re/code. Re/code’s reviewer was one of the first press testers for the commercial version of the wearable.

While the Fitbit presents itself as a fun addition to an exercise routine, a monitor rather than part of the game, Hocoma’s Valedo appears to be something more along the lines of a professional pain management therapy routine at home.

The Therapeutic Valedo Pain Management Product Line

The Valedo is not a standalone product but rather part of a line of devices released by Hocoma over the years. “The ValedoShape, ValedoMotion and Valedo are complementary products for a healthy back,” says the company’s product homepage. The commercial Valedo may be marketed as a “fun” and “addictive” game, but it allows accessible home therapy as an offshoot of the clinical line. The three products, says Hocoma, “offer a continuous solution from spine assessment to therapy in the clinic and at home.”

Valedo Product Line

Credit: ValedoTherapy.com

ValedoShape is a futuristic-looking handheld device used for analysis of the spine. A rolling, noninvasive sensor allows for an easy professional assessment over the course of treatment. ValedoMotion is the clinical version of the commercial just-plain Valedo. As with the Armeo and ArmeoBoom, Hocoma seems to be confidently fostering its run of transitioning clinical products to home use.

The Next Level of Pain Management Game Therapy

The product looks like the next step up from the early Wii Fit, in which the player uses a Balance Board to track their movements during exercises that range from traditional (such as push-ups) to game-like (such as obstacle courses). This series has sold millions since its debut in 2008 and continues today on the Wii U. The original Wii stood among the first of many rapid generations of body-monitoring console devices, including the PS3 Move and the Xbox Kinect, with their popular dance and sports games.

The wearables trend, combined with the popularity of exercise aids like Fitbit and FuelBand, have laid a helpful framework for a system like the Valedo. With so many wearables floating into the market, this game-like “therapy” device becomes a not-too-outlandish addition to home exercise routines. However, the FDA-listed Valedo sensors with all their medical credentials come at the steep price of $359 for the complete package, as listed on ValedoTherapy.com.

Valedo’s Quick Medical Results

According to Re/code, “A Hocoma spokesman says some people see improvements in flexibility and deep back muscles after using Valedo for 15 to 20 minutes, four to five times a week over two weeks.”

Re/code’s reviewer reported that her occasional lower back pain hasn’t been flaring up as often after the first week of using Valedo, and that those back muscles felt a little stronger. But she didn’t say anything conclusive as to if the little device could replace her pain management medication. She did say, “As I used Valedo, I forgot I was exercising. It felt a lot like being tricked into eating healthier food as a kid. It reminded me of a time when my Mom swapped ground turkey for ground beef in her famous taco salad and I was none the wiser, gobbling up extra helpings.”

Valedo is one more fun addition to a game-like exercise routine at home. While it is specifically targeted to address back pain management, Valedo is part of a promising new medical aspect of the current—and rampant—wearable trend.

Check out the American Academy of Pain Management for more info.

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