Yukon invention hits the medical marketplace

Dawsonite Greg Hakonson has just invented a device to relieve back pain, but you won't see him on a late night infomercial anytime soon.

Dawsonite Greg Hakonson has just invented a device to relieve back pain, but you won’t see him on a late night infomercial anytime soon.

“You know what it cost for those bloody informercials?” says Hakonson, who’s invention, the Trekke lumbar lift, is designed to unload weight from the lower spine.

Instead, Hakonson, 55, launched a website for consumers 10 days ago, and plans to focus on unions and workers’ compensation boards who usually foot the bill for back injuries and chronic pain.

“It’s got a huge potential to reduce the cost of lower back pain treatment,” said Hakonson.

Nearly 80 per cent of people will experience back pain at one time in their lives and that makes the pain remedies big business.

“There’s a myriad of different devices in the marketplace,” he said. “There’s moon boots, inversion tables, back braces – which have proven to be detrimental.”

“But none of them give you ambulatory relief – something you can put on and go to work or drive a dump truck or go horseback riding or go play a round of golf,” he said.

Heavy medication can provide instant relief, but it can also impede physical activities.

Enter the Trekke, which Hakonson has developed over the last 20 years.

He suffers from degenerative spinal arthritis, a genetic illness which causes chronic pain in his lower back, or lumbar spine, when atmospheric pressure is low.

His only respite was physiotherapy on a traction table, which involves hanging on a slanted table with your feet clasped and a weight on your head.

“That felt so good for two hours but then I’d get back into the car I felt all the pain again,” he said.

So Hakonson, who runs mining companies in the Dawson area, started scribbling ideas.

In 1998, he finally came upon a model that worked.

The device looks like a suicide bomber belt.

The gizmo was enough to land him some funding from the now-defunct Yukon Technology Centre, which allowed him to travel to Scotland to develop a proof of concept.

A prototype soon emerged and Hakonson got it patented in the US and Canada. He started a company, Pneuvation, to market the product. He then gathered some local investors to get the invention commercialized.

Over the last year and a half, he’s managed to raised $2.5 million to begin producing the Trekke.

Manufactured in Chicopee, Massachusetts, the Trekke is designed to relieve pain by unloading weight.

It’s comprised of two, four-inch-wide elastic belts. One fits under your pants and the other under a shirt.

A pump allows you to fill up the fabric “bladders” between the belts. The fabric was designed by Pneuvation and only expands in one direction.

The air pushed the two belts apart, which takes pressure of the spaces between the lumbar region’s spinal disks.

It’s in these spaces where pain usually originates, and the Trekke provides relief by taking the weight off the spinal column and onto the bladders.

The Trekke was vetted by the Cleveland Clinic, a major medical research institute, and was found to be effective at relieving pressure from the lumbar spine, said Hakonson.

The Trekke is designed to edge out back braces, which are detrimental to back strength, he said.

“They wrap around your body like a hand on a toothpaste tube and they squeeze your body and they don’t unload weight,” he said. “They take over the duty of the paraspinal muscles and so they weaken.”

The Trekke doesn’t take away any muscle activity, which is why you can wear it during a golf game, he said. It simply provides help for the spinal disks.

The initial commercialization was more expensive than anticipated, so Hakonson is now focused on selling the Trekke, which is advertised at $625 on trekkelumbarlift.com.

“We need to get a cash flow and let the company grow out for a bit,” he said.

Contact James Munson at jamesm@yukon-news.com.