Scratching the Surface

The market for surface stimulation products and systems, which includes TENS devices targeted at pain control and neuromuscular stimulators designed for rehabilitation and exercise therapy, has generally been regarded as an ugly stepsister of the neurostimulation field. Although application of electrical energy to the skin predates implanted or percutaneous stimulation by many decades, many researchers, manufacturers, and clinicians have come to regard TENS and other surface stimulation treatments with a bit of skepticism.

The pain control bandage marketed by Cyclotec Medical [see article, p1] offers the potential to change both the perception and the performance of surface stimulation manufacturers. The company’s adhesive-applied TENS and neuromuscular stimulation products do not present any great breakthrough in neurostimulation technology or clinical science. But what they do accomplish is demonstrate how novel packaging, marketing, and positioning can transform a seemingly moribund technology into one with market promise, media attention, and customer acceptance.

Cyclotec’s leadless and compact devices not only give the user more freedom and flexibility than previous stimulation devices, they also challenge the notion that TENS and neuromuscular stimulation users are home-bound, elderly, sedentary, or clinician-dependent. The company clearly envisions a customer base that is more active, independent, and economically self-sufficient than typical surface stimulation recipients of today.

While it is too early to say how successful Cyclotec will be in its goal to produce very-compact electronic “band-aids” sold over the counter, the effort is a laudable one, in our opinion. Even if the new devices prove no more efficacious than current TENS systems, today’s retail pain-control market—which includes everything from Tylenol to herbal supplements to topical creams to unique exercise devices—could hardly be worse off for the added diversity.

A vibrant over-the-counter market for low-cost, low-power stim devices could produce other benefits for the neurotechnology industry. It might help lower the unit cost for miniaturized power supplies. It might hasten the interaction between stimulation and orthotic and sporting apparel manufacturers. It might enable neurostimulation manufacturers and distributors to “deepen” their product lines with a range of devices at different price points, power levels, and degrees of invasiveness. And it would certainly help acquaint the buying public with the general capabilities of electrical stimulation.

And who knows what other market stimulation effects may lie beneath the surface?

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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