A wearable ultrasound device to treat acute and chronic muscle injuries produced by a Trumbull firm is increasingly finding favor with professional sports teams and health care providers alike.
Manufactured by ZetrOZ Systems LLC, the product, sam Sport, is an FDA-cleared bioregenerative medical device used both to reduce the pain associated with tendon, ligament and muscle injuries and to accelerate the healing process. It uses ZetrOZ’s proprietary miniaturization technology to provide ultrasonic waves that penetrate five centimeters into the tissue to increase circulation, oxygen and nutrient delivery and remove waste products such as lactic acid from the site of a musculoskeletal injury.
George Lewis, president and CEO of ZetrOZ and creator of the sam (sustained acoustic medicine) device.
“The last year and a half have been a whirlwind for us,” said George Lewis, president and CEO of ZetrOZ and creator of the sam (sustained acoustic medicine) device. Noting that manufacturing and research and development take place at its facility at 56 Quarry Road in Trumbull, Lewis said “we’ve seen pretty explosive growth” since launching in 2014, with 15 National Football League teams, five Major League Soccer squads, and several National Basketball Association, Women’s NBA, and Major League Baseball teams using the device to treat injuries from pulled hamstrings and rotator cuff strains to ankle, shoulder and back issues.
Though declining to name which teams are using sam Sport, Lewis said that the likes of Rick Guter, head athletic trainer and physical therapist for the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Women’s National Team and Wally Blase, longtime head athletic trainer for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, have publicly supported sam Sport.
“We have a number of chronic groin muscle problems that have developed over time and this is one of the first devices that the athletes actually ask for,” Guter said.
Blase said the device is easily used for “deep-heat warming-up, recovery and treating injuries. The sam Sport is nice, as you can put it on an athlete, set the timer and send them on their way.”
Over the last decade, Lewis said, sam has been extensively studied in the laboratory, with clinical research funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, National Space Biomedical Research Institute and the Center for the Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology.
The product is also gaining acceptance among health care practitioners as they seek ways to treat chronic musculoskeletal issues without resorting to narcotics. In August, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy sent a letter to every doctor in the country asking them to help solve the problem of opioid addiction in the U.S., noting that overdose deaths from the drug have quadrupled since 1999 and that prescriptions for powerful painkillers have reached the point where there is almost enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for samSport is $4,400.
Lewis pointed out that a typical surgery that samSport helps heal can cost $40,000 or more and many of the opioid prescriptions samSport replaces cost over $1,000 per month and lead to longer-term risks.
“The device offers incredible value to the patients and health care system,” he said.
Beyond professional athletic programs, the medical device is growing in use among the general population and is covered by most workers’ compensation insurance carriers. Marketed as sam Global Health, it can be used as an adjunct therapy with physical therapy and rehab centers for use at home or at work to provide a wearable multi-hour treatment process.
In August the company finalized a contract with One Call Care Management, the nation’s largest third-party administrator for processing workers compensation claims, to expand the use of the device in such cases.
“On-the-job-related injuries typically come in three areas,” Lewis said. “There’s chronic back strain — you lift a box, tweak your back and it results in constant, nagging lower back pain.” While many insurance carriers will only pay for physical therapy one to two times a week, sam is used by patients under a doctor’s direction for one to two hours a day, graduating to four hours. “They generally see significant pain reduction of 20 to 50 percent over a two- to six-week period,” he said.
The second area, tendinopathy, involves conditions such as tennis elbow and runner’s knee. Lewis said that after one week with sam, those patients’ conditions typically improve by 50 percent.
Thirdly, with chronic diseases such as arthritis, “You have a condition that you can’t necessarily heal — it’s a debilitating condition that breaks down cartilage in the joint until ultimately you have replacement surgery. But with sam you can generally manage the pain within six to nine weeks by using it daily.”
Insurance carriers, employers and employees alike thus benefit, Lewis said, with less time away from the job as the employee wears sam while at work. “Patients are very receptive and generally would rather try putting on a patch than taking a pain pill,” he said.
The company has relied mostly on word-of-mouth in the sports area. “Team trainers are very collaborative in working together to make sure their teams are on a level playing field — they all share best practices with each other,” Lewis said. “It’s to the point where it’s now migrating down now to college athletics. They’re telling each other, ‘This thing works, it’s covered by insurance and you should use it, too.’”
On the health care side, Lewis said the company is targeting nurse practitioners via educational outreach, including weekly webinars that have drawn “thousands” in discussing where the device works and where it does not. “Nine times out of 10, the nurse is the case manager to help get them back to work. They educate the physicians about the product, that it’s very effective with lower back pain, tendinopathy and so on.”
Sam is available by prescription in the U.S. and has been cleared for over-the-counter sale in Europe, Canada and Asia, he said.