Wireless patches could provide "acupuncture" on demand
By Ben Coxworth
August 3, 2012
For a good 2,000 years or so, many people have sworn by acupuncture as a means of relieving aches and pains, and treating various other disorders. In order to receive treatment, however, they have had to go to clinics and get jabbed with needles. Now, New York College of Health Professions chairman Donald Spector has created a wirelessly-controlled wearable skin patch, that he claims is able to deliver acupuncture-like treatment on demand.
Acupuncture works (or is said to work, depending on who you ask) by stimulating key points in the body through the precise insertion of thin steel needles. The stimulation of these points reportedly corrects imbalances in the flow of energy – or qi – through the body.
Already, people can buy adhesive patches with pointy studs on the underside, that continuously exert pressure on acupuncture points when applied to the skin. Spector’s patch, however, uses an electrical current to provide stimulation – and it only does so when instructed. This could be through direct finger contact on the patch, by wireless remote control, or even via a schedule that is programmed into a chip within the patch.
The consumer version of the patch would be disposable, with the idea that users would wear it continuously between visits to an acupuncture therapist (who would presumably be the person who administered the patch in the first place).
While it could be used for the treatment of injuries and/or ailments, Spector and his team seem to be particularly interested in the patch’s use for use in sports, as they believe that it would be able to increase muscle performance and reduce fatigue. They envision it being used not only in training, but also in actual competition. Coaches could remotely trigger an athlete's patch to help them recuperate while resting up between periods, or even to help stimulate key muscles when certain actions were being performed – a tennis player’s arm and/or shoulder muscles, for instance, could be stimulated right as they were making a serve.
One has to wonder not only if that would be distracting to the athlete, but also if it would even be allowed by the various sports-governing organizations. “Even though these patches will provide a significant advantage in muscle strength and endurance, I do not believe they should be outlawed under doping regulations,” said Dr. Mohammad Hashemipour, Dean of Academic Affairs at the college. “There are no drugs involved, except by the release of the wearer's own natural chemicals and neurotransmitters.”
The basic principle sounds rather like that of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), in which a (sometimes) portable device is used to apply electrical current to the patient via hard-wired adhesive patches on the skin. As its name implies, though, TENS is aimed specifically at therapeutic nerve stimulation. Also, the units are not conducive to being worn continuously, and particularly not when participating in sports.
Spector recently filed a patent on his patch technology, which the college plans to license to third parties.