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Alternative methods for managing pain exist, with new techniques and devices regularly introduced to the market. Neurostimulation techniques aimed at reducing tension, stress, and pressure build-up inside the head are one such method. Can Zōk help people achieve neurostimulation at home?
The handheld device was created by Dr. John Hatch, a chiropractor who specializes in functional neurology, as a way to help his patients reduce their reliance on pain medications and other intensive treatments for headaches.
The Zōk device is supposed to relieve pressure in the head as a way of mitigating pain from migraine episodes and headaches. The device applies light, inner ear pressure to stimulate some of the cranial nerves associated with migraine episodes and headaches.
Is Zōk FDA-approved?
Zōk is a class I medical device and is registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it’s not approved. Because it’s only a class I device, meaning it’s considered to pose low risk of harm to the user, it’s not required to be approved by the FDA.
Note that all medical devices must be registered with the FDA as a means of notifying the federal organization of a product’s existence. Elastic bandages and tongue depressors are other examples of class I medical devices.
The FDA has not sent any warning letters to Zōk.
Pressure and tension inside the head can trigger headaches and migraine episodes. Zōk is designed to stimulate the tympanic membrane (the eardrum) with light pressure to activate nerves inside the head. This is in an effort to alleviate pressure and tension.
One of the main nerves this is supposed to activate is the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sending pain, touch, and temperature sensations from your face to your brain.
The device’s main goal is to create a suction of gentle air pressure inside the ear. This is why it’s built a bit like a turkey baster or bulb syringe with an earbud at the end.
While the device is in the ear, you’ll experience a sensation of increased pressure. This mild pressure is a good sign that the device is working as intended. Zōk claims to feature scientifically calibrated pressure to deliver the right amount of stimulation needed to signal the cranial nerves linked to pain relief.
The efficacy of this device depends on the root cause of your pain. While the reasons for headaches and migraine episodes are not entirely clear, a lot of pain and tension in the head involves the trigeminal nerve — which Zōk aims to stimulate. As such, this product is most likely best for those who have tension headaches or headaches related to this nerve.
The device has a small, but mostly positive, sampling of independent reviews. The product has received an average of 3.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Those who liked the device said that it instantly relieved headache pain.
One reviewer of the product on the ratings platform Sitejabber gave it 5 stars and was pleased to find a product to help relieve headaches that was not a prescription medication.
There were five complaints filed against Zōk on the Better Business Bureau website. One was related to a worsening of symptoms and ear issues after using the device. The others were related to the device’s general ineffectiveness and return policy.
To use Zōk, deflate the bulb and insert it into the ear until it creates a suction. Take your hand away from the bulb — it should remain deflated — for 20 seconds. Then, put your hand back on the bulb and remove the device.
The other option is to leave the bulb inflated, place it in the ear and then gently squeeze in shallow, pulsating movements with your fingers for 20 seconds.
Do this for each ear and repeat up to five times, or until you notice relief in pressure or tension.
- Clean the tip of the device before and after each use.
- The Zōk earbud should not go farther than the entrance to the ear canal.
- Discontinue if Zōk causes discomfort or pain.
- Those with sensitive ears or narrow Eustachian tubes should use extra caution when inserting and removing the device.
- Avoid using any force.
There are other nondrug approaches to treating headaches and migraine episodes on the market, including single pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (sTMS), which generates a mild electric current at the back of the head, and gammaCore, which stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck.
A device called Cefaly is probably the most comparable to Zōk in that it also targets the trigeminal nerve. Rather than air pressure, an adhesive electrode is positioned on the forehead, which generates micro-impulses to stimulate the trigeminal nerve. Previously only available by prescription, the FDA cleared Cefaly for over-the-counter availability in 2020.
The United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) found that while there were no safety concerns, the evidence for Cefaly’s effectiveness was limited. Similar to Zōk, more study of these devices and techniques is necessary.
Zōk can be purchased on the Amazon marketplace or on the company’s website directly for $39.95 (MSRP) with free shipping.
The consensus is that if you experience a headache or migraine episode that disrupts your regular activities more than once a week, or you take pain medication for a headache or migraine episode more than twice a week, then consult a doctor.
Based on customer reviews, Zōk works for some people — allowing them to get some relief from headaches and migraine episodes and to taper off pain medication.
Though there hasn’t been enough research to gain widespread buy-in from the medical community, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work for you. There is no official indication of its effectiveness, but because it’s generally safe and relatively inexpensive, it can’t hurt to try.
If you start experiencing new or worsening headaches, it’s important to be assessed by a healthcare professional for underlying causes.
Johanna Sorrentino is a writer, editor, and wayfarer. Her appetite for empowering information and great storytelling is matched only by her appetite for cheese and chocolate. Learn more about her at johannasorrentino.com.