Pain is complex, but it’s something we can all identify with. Not only are there different types, causes and severity levels, you can also experience pain in different areas of your body.
The treatment options are as varied as the causes, from acupuncture, herbal therapies and over-the-counter medications to injections, chiropractic treatments and in extreme cases even surgery.
Another pain management alternative currently gaining popularity is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Therapy also known as TENS.
A TENS unit can be used to treat joint, neck and back pain, post-operative pain, period pain, migraines and even labour pain.
Furthermore, if you suffer from pain due to multiple sclerosis, endometriosis, arthritis, fibromyalgia or sport-related injuries, it might also prove helpful.
In this article, we’ll delve into the uses of a TENS unit, the benefits of owning one, and the important features to look for when purchasing this device.
Today we’ll be looking at the following best TENS units:
- IReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator
- HealthmateForever TENS unit
- Max Power Relief
- iReliev PlayMakar
- TENS 7000 Unit
- TechCare massager
What is a TENS Unit?
This kind of treatment is achieved via a TENS unit.
It is a small, battery operated, electronic machine with adjustable settings. Attached to the device are electrodes which look like tiny cords with small adhesive pads at the end of each one.
The pads are stuck onto the body above the aching areas. Once the pads are stuck on, the TENS unit will send small electrical currents to stimulate the nerve endings to the areas of the body under the pads.
Purposely electrocuting oneself doesn’t sound appealing, nor does it sound like it would relieve pain, however, the jolts of electricity are small enough that it is safe to use.
Typically units are battery powered or charged via USB, and are not plugged straight into a mains supply.
The device has different channels, frequency modes and intensity levels which you can set according to your pain level.
Given that TENS units are small and portable, many people use them while on the move or when they are working. Some units can be attached to clothing, clipped onto a belt or held in a trouser pocket.
How Exactly Does a TENS Unit Work?
The TENS unit works by attaching the adhesive pads to the area on your body surrounding the painful area. Once attached, you then turn on the unit and set the appropriate level of intensity that you require.
The machine transmits electrical currents which travel through the electrodes and into your skin and the tissues underneath. These electrical currents or impulses then inundate the nervous system ultimately decreasing its ability to send pain signals to your brain.
A study published by the US National Library of Medicine shows that TENS can indeed prove effective in lowering or blocking pain signals travelling to the brain.
Additionally, depending on the frequency of the unit, the electrodes can cause your body to release endorphins -which act as natural pain relievers.
This pain management treatment is safe and non-invasive and there are no major side effects; some devices offer pain relief for up to 24 hours.
TENS vs EMS Treatment
If you’ve already heard of TENS, you may have come across the similar term EMS (electrical muscle stimulation). The two are often confused.
Both use electrical pulses to target areas of the body, but the difference between the two is in their names. Whilst the TENS will target nerves, EMS targets muscles.
The Benefits of Using a TENS Unit
If you’ve never used a TENS unit before, you might be wondering if it’s really worth investing in.
These portable machines have their benefits and are being used in countries around the world to treat varied pain-related conditions.
Some of the benefits include:
Aids in Muscle Recovery and Relaxation – Some units are designed to help athletes or persons who engage in daily exercise regimens and suffer from muscle aches and pain. A 2007 research, published in the Journal of Clinical Science concluded that TENS was effective in treating delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Produces Endorphins – These are described as the natural painkillers in your body. When you attach a TENS unit to your skin, the electrical impulses can signal these hormones in the brain for your body to produce endorphins to further aid in pain relief.
Minimal Side Effects – Unlike many other pain management treatments which often have several side effects (some worse than the pain itself) TENS does not. There have been a few instances where users had allergic reactions to the pads that attach to the skin, so if you have allergies you may want to pay special attention to the type of material used in these pads.
Portable and User-Friendly – The TENS units are smaller than many cell phones and can easily fit in your pocket or small bag. Due to the size and lightweight factor you can also travel with the device from home to work or even take it with you on vacation.
Offers Longevity – Unlike pills or injections that can wear off over time the TENS unit offers a long-term solution for pain management. These devices are meant to last for several years with proper care.
Pain Relief – A TENS unit is best used only for short-term pain relief and is not intended to deal with chronic pain. It may be useful for general, neck, knee and back pain.
It is also commonly used for helping pain associated with arthritis and period pains. People who are recovering from injuries sustained during sports may also find a TENS unit beneficial.
What to Look for When Choosing a TENS Unit
If you’ve never used or purchased a TENS unit before, the process might seem a bit daunting – especially with so many options now available.
Well, to make your life easier we’ve shared some of the best features to look for when purchasing your TENS unit.
Most TENS unit are battery powered. Some require one 9-volt battery and other models may require three AAA batteries. It all depends.
Given the day and age we live in, some of the more ‘tech-savvy’ buyers may prefer a TENS unit that is chargeable via USB. These type of TENS unit are becoming more available, however, the battery type still tend to dominate.
If you don’t want the hassle of having to spend money on buying batteries then the USB type of TENS unit will be a better choice. However, some people may prefer the simplicity of using batteries.
Number of Channels
A TENS unit which is ‘dual channel’ means that it is able to send two different intensities across its electrodes.
This is beneficial if you wish to work on two different parts of the body with two different intensities, or if you are feeling in a generous mood, a dual channel TENS unit can be shared them with someone else.
If you want to keep your sessions with your TENS unit simple you may not need a dual channel unit.
Different TENS units will come with a different number, and size of pads. This may be an important factor depending on the part of the body you plan to use them the most on.
A proper TENS unit is one that gives you the option of different therapy modes. This will allow you to set the unit to particular settings based on the type of pain you’re experiencing. The most common modes on a unit includes, burst, constant and modulation.
Some of the TENS units also come with different modes which mimic different types of massages.
For some people, this may not be necessary and may even make the whole process overly complexed. We have outlined one TENS unit with 24 of these modes. Does this seem like overkill to you?
You will need to decide whether these modes are of benefit to you or not. If you don’t need them then you can buy a simpler TENS unit and save some money in the process.
This is important because different types of pains and certain areas of the body will require a different intensity level to alleviate the pain. Most TENS units have 20 or more intensity level options so make sure to read the description before purchase.
The number of intensity levels is likely to be the most important factor. Ideally, you want a TENS unit with many levels so you can find the right intensity of electrical current you need to relieve your pain.
You’ll want to invest in a unit that is high quality and durable; especially since they don’t come cheap.
The material used to make the product is not always displayed in the description, but a money-back guarantee or some kind of warranty is an indicator of a good product.
Prices can range from about 30 bucks on the lower end, to over 300 dollars. Keep in mind that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is a good buy, but many of the good ones are indeed on the higher end of the budget.
Compare the low and high-end options and look at the features that account for the price of the item, and then choose something that offers the best features and work within your budget.
The Best TENS Unit
In this section, we’ll look at the best TENS units that are available for home use.
These top 10 were chosen as they represent a good spread of functionality. Everyone has different preferences so make sure you know what yours are and that you select the right TENS unit to meet those needs.
1. iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator
- 2 in 1: iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit...
- WHAT IS TENS?: Stands for "Transcutaneous...
- 14 Therapy Modes: 7 TENS Pain Relief Modes, 1...
- EMS and TENS combination
- Works as a strength training and rehab tool
- Physical therapist endorsed
- High price tag
- Battery operated
- Doesn’t offer a charging option
This TENS and EMS unit combines two therapies in one device and features dual-channel versatility, adjustable timer, and 25 levels of 80 MA intensity. There are 14 pre-set therapy modes to include an Arthritis TENS mode, 7 TENS pain relief modes, and 6 EMS muscle strength and recovery modes.
The machine sends low-voltage pulses to your skin, which blocks the pain signal to your brain by stimulating the nerve fibres. It is a useful muscle stimulator for arthritis, pain relief and sore -muscles in your knees, legs, shoulders, back, abs and more.
Additionally, the EMS can aid in strength training and even act as a rehab tool while offering post-exercise recovery benefits for athletes. This is endorsed by licensed Physical Therapist, Joe Noel who practices in the state of Florida and uses the device in his practice for muscle conditioning and RX strength pain relief.
This portable, lightweight device is ideal for home, work or travel and if you’re not satisfied with your purchase you can return it within 14 days for a full refund.
The main user complaints are that the unit uses battery and doesn’t offer a charging option; also the high price tag is a turnoff for some. But, it is endorsed by a physical therapist and offers EMS plus TENS features.
So, if this is within your budget and you’re on the hunt for a high-quality unit, give iReliev a try; it is one the most highly revered selections on your list.
2. HealthmateForever TENS Unit
- All-Time best seller YK15AB is one of our most...
- Powerful Value: One of our most powerful TENS &...
- Mode Buttons: Easy to read & operate buttons for...
- Both a TENS and EMS unit
- Very affordable for two different therapies (TENS and EMS)
- Value for money
- Backlit LCD display
- Dual channel
- Requires batteries (3 AAA batteries)
- Not as simple and easy to understand as other units (vague instructions)
- The lowest intensity may be too high for some
- Bigger than other units
The HealthmateForever TENS unit is one of the cheapest units on this list yet goes much further than most as it’s both a TENS and EMS unit. It has proven to be one of the more popular TENS unit due to its low price and high functionality.
It has 15 modes which include 9 for different body parts and 5 massage modes (knead, acupuncture, tapping, cupping, scraping) and one random mode.
If you want bang for your buck then the HealthmateForever TENS unit is a viable option for you.
Keep in mind that the quality of build may be lower than some of the other units on this list. Furthermore, if portability is important to you, then you may want to look at a different model as this one is a lot larger than the others.
3. Omron Max Power Relief TENS Electrotherapy Device
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (tens)...
- Most Powerful Tens Unit To Date
- Highly Customizable
- Small, light and compact
- Easy to use
- More power than other units
- Comes with Omron’s special ‘long life’ pads
- Omron is a trusted health care brand
- Not USB rechargeable – requires 2 AA batteries
- Screen not backlit
- Units that are slightly cheaper can be just as effective
- 15-minute max sessions
The Max Power Relief is Omron’s latest TENS unit, which offers 6 pre-set pain modes, 3 massage modes each with 15 different power levels. Omron has described this as their most powerful TENS unit to date which will attract many buyers looking for a powerful yet compact unit.
This model is easy to use and simple to control with only 3 buttons on the unit.
One potential drawback is that it requires 2 AA batteries unlike the TechCare Plus Massager which is fully rechargeable.
In addition, the screen on the Max Power Relief unit is not backlit like the TechCare Plus. It is, however, more powerful than the TechCare Plus.
4. iReliev PlayMakar Wireless TENS Unit
- 2 in 1 Wireless System: iReliev Therapeutic...
- WHAT IS TENS?: Stands for "Transcutaneous...
- WHAT IS EMS?: Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)...
- TENS and EMS unit in one
- USB rechargeable
- No messy wires from unit to pads
- Backlit screen
- Costs a lot more than the other units
The PlayMakar gives us a glimpse of the direction that all TENS units will evolve to eventually with its adoption of wireless technology.
The connection from the unit to the pad is totally wire free.
That’s right, with the PlayMakar there are no wires running from the unit to the pads making this the ultimate TENS unit for users who want to use their unit discretely and not have the mess of countless wires running all over the place.
The other huge benefit of this model is that it is not only a TENS unit but also offers EMS functionality to help relieve muscular pain in addition to the types of pain a TENS unit typically targets.
There are seven TENS programs plus an additional one for arthritis, six EMS programs making a total of fourteen in all.
The PlayMakar is a groundbreaking device offering additional functionalities that the other models can only dream of.
However, like all things, with new technology and additional features, this TENS unit becomes a lot more costly than the other units.
5. TENS 7000 Unit
- NEED PRESCRIPTION STRENGTH PAIN RELIEF? A TENS...
- OVER 1M TENS 7000 DEVICES SOLD: A consumer over...
- A LEADER SINCE 2008: A 10+ year favorite TENS...
- Dual Channel
- Easy and simple to use
- Low price
- Not chargeable via USB
- Not as aesthetically pleasing as other newer models
- Not many features such as massage modes
If you’re looking for a powerful device to help relieve your body pains then the TENS 7000 is the best unit for you.
The TENS 7000 is one of the most popular and highly regarded TENS unit on the market due to its effectiveness and ease of use.
The TENS 7000 comes with five different modes (Burst, Normal, Modulation, Strength-Duration Mode 1 & 2) and the two knobs at the top of the unit can be used to control the pulse amplitude or intensity levels.
In addition, the TENS 7000 can be used to treat two parts of the body at the same time given that it is dual channel.
Whilst it’s simplicity may be a big plus to some, others may be more attracted to other TENS unit models which have large backlit touch screens and don’t look like they are from the 1980s.
Furthermore, it doesn’t have some of the extra bells and whistles like some of the other models do such as numerous massage modes and USB charging.
6. TENS Unit and EMS Combination Muscle Stimulator
- 2 CHANNEL / 4 ELECTRODE PADS - each channel's...
- EASY TO USE - BEST for PAIN RELIEF, Relaxation,...
- 12 PROGRAMS with 20 Intensity Settings. 6...
- TENS and EMS functions
- 20 intensity levels
- Automatic shutoff function to extend battery life
- Low-quality pads
- Screen cracks easily
- High price tag
This muscle stimulator is perfect as a physical therapy and occupational therapy aide, and it comes equipped with both TENS and EMS functions.
The TENS feature is ideal for muscle pain and soreness while the EMS functionality is designed for athletes, to help with quicker muscle recovery and improved muscle performance
This device has 4 electrode pads and 2 channels with the option to separately control the intensity level of each channel. Furthermore, this TENS unit gives you the option of 12 modes and 20 intensity levels.
You can also customize the length of your treatment session thanks to the 60-minute adjustable timers. The unit has a large display unit and an auto shutoff function for prolonged battery life, and the product comes with an acupuncture chart, 6 latex-free electrode pads, a pad holder, and 4 lead wires.
Users of the TENS Unit & EMS Combination Muscle Stimulator have noted that the screen cracks easily, the pads may fall apart and some find the instructions complicated.
However, it does provide multiple modes and intensity levels, and has both TENS and EMS functions-a great pick if you need a physical therapy and occupational therapy aid.
7. AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit
- PAIN RELIEF MACHINE. The rechargeable electric...
- UP TO 20 MODES. Pre-set modes offer you hammering,...
- INDEPENDENT MODE CONTROL. You can set separate...
- 10 hours of usage
- 20 pre-programmed modes
- 12-month warranty
- Pads lose their stickiness after a while
- Machine has to be reset each time
- Difficult to use
This pain relief machine boasts 20 pre-programmed modes to include shiatsu, kneading, tapping and hammering to massage your muscles— to help with pain and muscle fatigue.
The rechargeable unit can facilitate 10 hours of usage and offers fully isolated dual channel options. This allows you to massage two different areas of the body at different modes at the same time.
Along with your TENS machine you’ll receive a USB cable and charger, a pad holder and punch, 4 square electrode pads, 4 x large rectangle pads, and 2 lead wires. The company also offers a 12-month warranty on the product.
Users have complained that the device has to be reset each time it is used, and the pads lose their stickiness after a while.
However, this is one of the cheaper units on our list and there is a 12-month warranty so it’s a good option in you’re on a tight budget.
8. Compex Sport Elite 2.0 Muscle Stimulator with TENS Bundle Kit
- TENS PAIN MANAGEMENT - The Compex TENS program...
- INCLUDES 10 PROGRAMS (4 Strength, 2 Warmup, 3...
- INCREASE EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH - The Resistance,...
- Can be incorporated into your workout regimen
- 2-year warranty
- Perfect for athletes
- Complicated setup
This is one of the higher priced units on our list, and is mostly focused on muscle stimulation. It is also designed for pain management and injury prevention, along with muscle warm-up and recovery.
It runs at a lesser frequency than other units on the market, helping to generate the endorphins in your body, increase local blood flow; ultimately promoting muscle relaxation after an intense competition or workout which can leave your muscles fatigued.
The Compex Sport Elite 2.0 Muscle Stimulator comes equipped with 5 different progression levels and 10 essential programs. These include I TENS unit, 2 warmup programs, 4 strength programs and 3 recovery programs— designed for endurance, sore muscles and strength building.
If you’re an athlete or participate in any workout or training program you can easily incorporate this muscle stimulator into your routine.
It will enhance your endurance during activities of very short intervals such as sprinting and jumping. The device also helps to increase muscle size and density and increase your athletic performance over time.
There have been complaints about the bulkiness of the item, and the high price tag is another popular complaint.
However, if you’re an athlete or someone who often suffers from fatigued muscles, this is the ideal selection to complement your workout regimen.
9. TechCare Plus Massager
- WHAT IS TECHCARE MASSAGER : It is a combination of...
- FEATURES : 24 preprogramed massage modes includes...
- WHAT IS INCLUDED ? : 1x 2019 Newest Model...
- Dual Channel
- 24 Massage modes and plenty of intensity levels
- Backlit screen
- 20-hour Rechargeable battery
- Better instructions needed
The TechCare massager is easily one of the best TENS units available for home use. Not only that, but it comes at a very affordable price.
There are plenty of standout features of the TechCare Massager, however, it’s most prominent feature is it’s 24 pre-programmed modes (which is significantly higher than most other competitors).
Each massage mode mimics different massage techniques you may get from a massage therapist such as tapping, acupuncture, deep tissue, cupping etc. Each mode is truly unique with different benefits and you’ll be sure to find the relief you are looking for by selecting the mode that most applies to you.
The TechCare massager also comes with a large backlit screen making it easily viewable. In addition, the battery boasts a 20-hour battery life and you’ll be saving your money on batteries given that it is chargeable via USB.
10. Easy@Home Professional Grade TENS Unit Electronic Pulse Massager
- Are you looking for a professional grade premium...
- PROFESSIONAL GRADE: 20 Power Levels for Intensity...
- RECHARGEABLE BATTERY: Rechargeable lithium-ion...
- 1-year product guarantee
- Professional grade
- Battery life is short
- Intensity buttons may malfunction after a while
This professional grade TENS unit has 20 power levels offering you a range of intensity from very mild to extremely powerful. It has 5 automated massage program options and 3 traditional massage modes, and comes with 4 electrode pads and a leather storage bag.
Unlike the IReliev which uses standard batteries, the Easy@Home Professional Grade TENS Unit uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which can be charged via USB or DC.
Offering powerful pulse intensity this device doesn’t just help to relax the muscles and relieve pain. If you engage in athletic activities this is a good option for pain management.
Additionally, this portable device is user-friendly and has a large backlit LCD screen so you can easily adjust the channels and modes as you see fit. It is also backed by a 1-year product quality guarantee.
Previous customers have noted that the intensity buttons malfunctioned after some time, while others complain about the short battery life. Also, this is the most expensive TENS unit on the list.
Despite these hiccups, this professional grade machine is user-friendly and comes with a 1-year warranty. So, if money is not an issue and you can afford to invest in a high -quality TENS machine, this might be the one for you.
OUR PICK: IReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator
- 2 in 1: iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit...
- WHAT IS TENS?: Stands for "Transcutaneous...
- 14 Therapy Modes: 7 TENS Pain Relief Modes, 1...
This machine offers a perfect balance of price, quality and user-friendliness. It’s a TENS and EMS unit combined and comes equipped with 14 pre-set therapy modes and 25 levels of intensity.
There are also 8 pre-set TENS programs, with 1 specifically designed for pain due to Arthritis, and 6 pre-set EMS programs aimed at muscle strengthening and recovery.
The IReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator is ideal for home, work or travel and has an easy-to-use interface.
Furthermore, it works as a strength training and rehab tool and is endorsed by Physical Therapist Joe Noel. Apart from just endorsing the product, Dr Noel who has been practising for 24 years also uses the devices in his clinical practice.
IReliev has an output strength of 80 MA, offering medical grade strength for pain relief. It is not the cheapest option on our list, but don’t let that deter you from getting this TENS unit; the great features makes the price worthwhile.
It will make a great purchase for first-time users!
TENS unit Best Practices
Before we end this article, it’s important to remind you to carefully read and follow the instructions outlined on your TENS unit. If you are unsure about anything, consult a professional who will be better able to guide you.
Also, Medical News Today recommends that you refrain from using a TENS unit if you suffer from epilepsy, heart problems, or if you wear a pacemaker or any metal or electrical implant. Additionally, if you are pregnant do not use the device on/around the abdomen or pelvic regions.
TENS units are not meant to treat every type of pain; we can only speak to the ones outlined in this article.
Finally, make sure that you use the product as instructed so that you can get the best results from your TENS unit.