Chronic pain management gets a new impact player

The launch of a wearable pulsed shortwave therapy (PSWT) device with a 10-year track record in the US, Canada and Australia is set to give chronic pain sufferers in South Africa a shot at improved quality of life.

Chronic pain management remains one of the challenges in the medical profession. Adding to conundrums such as balancing medicine use with quality of life, is the reality that the central nervous system can become stuck in a centrally sensitised pain state. Central sensitisation – as this process is called – changes a person’s pain sensitivity, allowing the perception of pain to continue even after an injury has healed. This is because pain thresholds are lowered, leading to a heightened perception of pain. Stimuli that are normally painless can produce pain, while stimuli that produce pain will produce pain at much higher levels (hyperalgesia).1

Central sensitisation can be associated with well-known chronic pain culprits such as lower back and neck pain, and the agony caused by osteoarthritis in the knee.2

Knee with ActiPatch® mechanism


It is precisely for these conditions that ActiPatch® promises relief, says Garth Maart, marketing manager, OTC division for Adcock Ingram SA, the company licensed to distribute the device locally. “The concept of using electrical therapy to enhance healing is well-known and widely used in devices such as pacemakers and the TENS machine. Different to the TENS machine, ActiPatch® is a device that is generally worn on the skin, attached with the tape provided,” explains Maart.3

The strength of the low-power electromagnetic signal that the ActiPatch® generates (27.12 MHz)1 is further reduced by pulsing the signal, hence its name: low-power pulsed shortwave therapy (PSWT).1,4


Back with ActiPatch® mechanism


In very simple terms, PSWT devices such as ActiPatch® increase background physiological noise.1 Although the stimulation is below the sensory level due to its low power and pulsed nature, the central nervous system still ‘sees’ an increase in afferent noise and, over time, raises the pain tolerance thresholds through the habituation process. In essence, PSWT distracts the central nervous system by giving it new peripheral information to focus on. In this way, pain is treated by moving the individual out of a centrally sensitised pain state.1

ActiPatch® has been available for about 10 years and has been approved in Canada, the US and Australia.

Shoulder with ActiPatch® mechanism

More about ActiPatch®

The device consists of three components, namely an integrated circuit, an antenna and a lithium battery (3V). When the antenna is placed over the area to be treated, radio-frequency energy from the antenna is transferred into the target tissue as a localised therapy.2

ActiPatch® is indicated for the adjunctive treatment of musculoskeletal pain and should be used for between 12 and 24 hours per day.3 Pain relief is not immediate; it could take three to four days for the therapy to take effect.3

Depending on the severity of the injury, patient pain levels can begin to subside after only 2–3 hours of wearing the device and will continue to decrease as long as the device is being used continuously or at least 12 hours per day.3 If the device is used in this way, it may last up to two months before replacement is required – the current design does not have a replaceable battery.3

Daily treatment may be continuous or intermittent and overnight therapy is an effective option. The low-power energy ensures that the device does not produce any sensation, be it heat, noise or vibration.3


ActiPatch® may be used during regular physical activity and while it is not waterproof, normal sweating does not affect it.3 It is safe for patients with diabetes and arthritis, as well as the elderly or bedridden.3 However, the device should not be placed directly over a cardiac pacemaker, implanted defibrillator, deep brain stimulator, nerve stimulators or other active implantable devices.3 It should also not be used on children younger than 18,3 pregnant women or cancer patients as there is no data on its safe use in these patient categories.3

While not a prescription therapy, ActiPatch® will only be available in pharmacies, carrying a warning for consumers to consult their pharmacists on its use.

“Adcock Ingram is proud to bring ActiPatch® to South Africa,” says Maart. “We have no doubt that it can help provide chronic pain sufferers a new lease on life.”

ActiPatch® is a registered trademark of BioElectronics Corporation. For full prescribing information refer to the Professional information approved by the Medicines Regulatory Authority. BioElectronics Corporation, USA, 4539 Metropolitan Court, Frederick, MD 21704. Tel: 1-866-757-2284. Marketed by Adcock Ingram Limited.


  1. ActiPatch® Mechanism of Action & Clinical Evidence
  2. Koneru SN, Staelin R, Rawe IM Chronic pain intervention using pulsed shortwave therapy: the relationship between pain demographics and central sensitization inventory. Pain Manag. 2019;9(3):283-96.
  3. Woolf CJ. Central sensitization: implications for the diagnosis and treatment of pain. Pain 2011;152(3 Suppl):S2-15.
  4. Rawe IM, Kotak DC. A UK registry study of the effectiveness of a new over-the-counter chronic pain therapy. Pain Manag. 2015;5(6):413-23.
  5. Staelin R, Koneru SN, Rawe IM. A prospective six-month study of chronic pain sufferers: a novel OTC neuromodulation therapy. Pain Res Manag. 2019;2019:3154194.
  6. ActiPatch® Directions For Use, March 2021.

About Adcock Ingram

Adcock Ingram is a leading South African pharmaceutical manufacturer listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.  The Company manufactures, markets, and distributes a wide range of healthcare products and is a leading supplier to both the private and public sectors of the market – ranked as the second-largest manufacturer in the private pharmaceutical market and the second-largest supplier to the public sector.

The Over the Counter (AI OTC) division manufactures, markets and sells medication with a focus on brands sold predominantly in retail pharmacy, where the pharmacist plays a role in the product choice.  Pharmacy-initiated therapy is the main driver of product use in the Schedule 1 (S1) and Schedule 2 (S2) space, satisfying a growing need for primary healthcare in South Africa.

Adcock Ingram is a level two B-BBEE contributor.