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If you have never heard of or used a TENS unit, TENS is an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.
The purpose of the TENS unit is to send a low-voltage electrical current to a specific body part, which is believed to help block pain signals from being sent to the brain, eliminating pain.
They are often used for a range of ailments – including back pain and shoulder pain.
Best TENS Unit
I’ve tried a whole bunch of TENS units. Here are my reviews of the best ones I tested, that meet the criteria of both value and features.
1. iRelieve Play Maker TENS & EMS Combination Unit – *Top Pick*
The Play Maker by iReliev has features not only for pain relief, but EMS massage for muscle conditioning, recovery, and exercise prep. The combination of both TENS and EMS make this unit quite the versatile device.
This device has a total of 14 programs, eight of which are for TENS and six for EMS. These programs have various functions. For example, P8 is designed specifically for managing arthritis pain.
The Play Maker is easy to operate with only four buttons that put you in control. This unit is wireless and requires only one pad per channel. Therefore, one pad does the work of two. Wired systems tend to require two pads to do the job.
You can set your treatment times for between 5 and 60 minutes as well as set the program intensity levels independently for each single channel, which means you can treat an area or two for longer if needed.
25 intensity levels give you total control over how strong you want your treatment. Most other TENS devices have only 20 or less. You may never need the full 25 levels but knowing there are so many levels from which to choose should instill confidence.
Since you will likely need to replace your pads, iRelieve offers a subscription service for that to save you money. The device uses Bluetooth technology that requires no manual pairing to work with the pads as they are ready to use between the remote and pods automatically.
Having no wires to worry with makes this TENS & EMS unit discreet and portable, so you can use it just about anywhere without anyone knowing.
Once you have set this unit up for a program and timer, you won’t need to cycle through the programs every time you use it. It remembers where you were and goes back to that program. In other words, it will return to the timer and program you used last.
It is compact and easy to carry with you in a hard-shell carrying case that has a spot for every piece and it protects the device from damage in case you drop it. This TENS & EMS device is ideally suited for portability, so you can relieve pain no matter where you go.
The biggest complaints about the Play Maker is that its display screen is not as large as some of its competitors. However, it is easy to read and clear with the information well-spaced out. There is no problem related to reading the display, but some people prefer a larger screen. One of the purposes of this device is to be portable, therefore the small size.
The Play Maker costs more than other units, but then its features offset the price. Great for back pain. Great for shoulder pain.
If you are on a budget, this Tech Care Massager TENS Unit is a more cost-effective device to buy, if you are getting one for the first time and do not want to put out a larger investment.
If you are new to this technology this device is easy to use, intuitive, offers a large 3.75 inch display with backlighting, and offers 24 modes. It is loaded with features for the price.
24 modes are more than you will find on other TENS units in this price range (and some above), but this TENS unit has 24 stimulation modes. These modes include six categories of cupping, reflexology, and kneading massage.
You can treat two areas of your body using this dual-channel system. You can also choose from 20 intensity levels controlled by + and – buttons.
20 hours of use between charges is more than many TENS units provide. Unless you forget to charge your unit, it is not likely you will use up those hours.
While the box it comes in is not a carrying case, it is a nice box that stores everything you need between sessions.
One of the most appealing aspects of using TENS units is that it is a drug-free alternative that is effective against pain. TENS technology is FDA approved, as is the Spa-Buddy. The electromassage therapy from this device offers temporary relief from aches and pains that otherwise prevent you from enjoying a good quality of life.
The one thing about the Spa-Buddy is that it is not the most modern or technically advanced TENS unit on the market. However, it is liked by new users and is easy to use for anyone who is not tech savvy or anyone who has never used this technology. It is touted as the nearly perfect entry-level device.
There are no complicated controls on the Spa Buddy. Each channel has its own set of intensity controls, so you can adjust and let it do the work. Just press the plus or minus buttons up or down to increase or decrease the intensity as you need it.
The simplicity of this design means less navigating through a list of complex controls to find what you want. There are 8 programs for the TENS with contrasting stimulation options and 30 intensity levels (one of the largest available). Therefore, you have ample control over how strong you want the current to be for a given area.
Even though this TENS unit is small in size, its display screen is ample with the data spread out enough to be easy to read. The only issue with the display is that it has no backlighting.
You can set the timer for between 5 and 95 minutes or choose the continuous setting. Regardless, the timer can be easily adjusted with one button.
You will need 3 AAA batteries for this unit because it is not rechargeable. You will get about 10 hours from quality batteries. This machine is an excellent choice even with its few minor drawbacks. The benefits outweigh any drawbacks.
When you are looking at spending less than $50.00 on a TENS unit, there are a few quality devices out there like the truMedic TENS Electronic Pulse Unit.
This device comes with four electrode pads, two electrode lead wires, one USB wire, one A/C adapter, plus a couple of free bonuses to sweeten the deal.
You will sacrifice screen size for the price, but when that is not an issue, this is an effective device for muscle aches, pains, stiffness, and soreness.
The PL-009 unit requires 4 AAA batteries, which are included in the box. The benefits of the high-frequency pulses that this unit generates include stress reduction and pain relief. You get pre-set programs for massaging various muscle groups and you can adjust the intensity and speed.
This unit is good for people who are not comfortable with modern devices. The buttons are easy to read and clearly marked, which means if you have problems reading small text or graphics, this unit offers a good solution.
Be aware that the intensity dials are a bit easy to move, so be careful when using this device to avoid accidental intensity increases or decreases. However, this issue has not created a problem with customer satisfaction or sales since it is and has been a number one best seller on Amazon for a long time.
The Omron is an easy to use system that has been used by medical professionals and physical therapists for over 30 years. The simple design and pre-set programs provide up to five levels of intensity, resulting in pain relief.
This device is small, compact, and portable so you can take it wherever you go. It is small enough to fit in your pocket for discreet use.
The pads are self-adhesive and reusable up to 150 times. This technology is approved by the FDA for home use.
The three pad modes include lower back, leg/foot, and arm. You get to personalize your TENS therapy. You can expect variations of tingling, tapping, and massage-style sensations or muscle contractions known to decrease muscle spasms.
It is wise to start with a 15-minute session to see how you respond. Once pain has stopped or decreased, it is time to stop the therapy.
The Roscoe Medical TENS 7000 is a dual-channel unit with prescription-strength pain relief. It provides targeted pain relief over independent dual channels that have control over four electrode pads.
Pain relief from ailments like neck, leg, foot, shoulder, elbow, and knee pain, arthritis pain, and carpal tunnel. It has been used for these and other sports injuries and aches and pains by industry professionals as a drug-free pain management solution.
Everything you need is in the carrying case. You get the TENS unit, four reusable electrode pads, a 9-volt battery, a pair of lead wires, a hard carry case, instruction manual, and a quick start guide.
Therapy modes for the TENS 7000 include Normal, Burst, and Modulation Pulse Massager. You can control the strength-duration with number one or two.
The AccuRelief TENS Unit promotes pain relief via its effective muscle stimulator that you control.
There are four reusable self-adhesive electrode gel pads, the dual-channel TENS unit, one pair of lead wires, AAA batteries (not rechargeable), electrode placement guide, instruction manual, and a quick start guide.
This easy-to-operate, portable device allows you to manage your pain levels instantly by blocking the pain signals to the brain. You can use six preset programs for specific body parts and tailor your TENS experience.
You can easily adjust the intensity levels and your treatments with 25 levels of intensity. This unit provides a 30-minute shut-off feature to prevent overuse. Always check with your doctor or physical therapist before using this technology.
This HM8ML model of the HeathmateForever TENS unit features one pair of long-life electrode pads, lead wire, four pads with single output, and programmable modes for a custom therapy session.
There are eight preprogrammed massage-like modes that include:
- Push & Pull (Tuina)
This device is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery that allows you up to 10 hours of continuous use.
Choose from 20 levels of intensity through this lightweight, compact, portable device that you can take anywhere with you and enjoy discreet use.
Overall, there are more than 50 types of TENS units on Amazon and HealthmateForever claims theirs is the number one brand.
This little gem of a TENS unit has a multitude of great features and is a higher end priced unit compared to other HealthmateForever devices. This Pro15AB model features totally isolated channels on a dual-channel system, which means it can be operated like two different machines simultaneously.
This TENS unit is a small, handheld device that is small enough to be portable and discreet, but powerful enough to block pain signals from getting to your brain so you can experience some relief. Wireless technology is one of the key features of the HealthmateForever TENs & PMS Pro15AB.
Not only does it block pain sensations, it also helps with muscle firming and toning. For instance, mode 10 is for the gluteal muscles and is ideal for bodybuilding.
The main features that make this system so effective include 15 pre-programmed modes that are easily switched simply by pressing the M button. Acupuncture, Guasha, Cupping, Deep Tissue, Shiatsu, Tapping, Tunia, Body Building, Pressure, Back Pain, Foot modes, Joint modes,
Back pain modes and combination modes are pre-programmed for ease of use.
The adjustable timer provides you with 10-80 minutes of therapy via the T button. You can manage the intensity level from any one of 20 levels. The backlit screen is easy to read as you switch modes, timer, and levels of intensity.
What is a TENS Unit?
TENS actually stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. TENS machines are used to bring relief from chronic pain that’s related to nerves. TENS units do this by stimulating your different nerve groups through the electrical impulses that are sent through your nerve strands.
Stimulating your nerves like this can help with pain and discomfort in two main ways. Firstly, the stimulation can block pain signals from connecting to your brain. Secondly, the stimulation of your nerves is also going to encourage your body to create more endorphins, that are painkillers naturally.
An EMS Device: What is it?
An EMS machine is an electrical muscle stimulation machine. These types of devices are used to stimulate your muscles to help prevent muscle atrophy. When your muscles haven’t been used for a prolonged period, they can lose definition and become weak. This typically occurs after an injury or having surgery.
EMS machines will push electrical impulses through the muscles to help prevent atrophy from occurring. When your muscles are stimulated with electricity, they are capable of receiving more nutrients and blood. In turn, this will increase the strength of your muscles, as well as their flexibility. It can also help to reduce the chronic pain you may be experiencing.
How to Choose a TENS Unit
Several factors go into choosing the appropriate TENS unit for your needs. Here are some to consider.
What do you need from the device besides pain relief. Some other factors may include rechargeable function, number of areas that can be treated at the same time, size of the display, and other factors will affect your decision.
Set a budget and stick to it. Knowing how much you have to spend on this technology will help you narrow your search and save you time. Start with a short list of 5 TENS units and stay within that budget.
Narrow Your Selections
Once you choose five systems, you can then narrow it down to between two and three. This is where you narrow the functionality you want from it. Things like the value for the cost, features, user ratings, and such should meet your criteria.
Do Your Research
Dig a little deeper into these devices to uncover anything that is a deal breaker to you. For instance, have you read about recurring problems with the machine that would prevent you from buying it?
After taking all these factors under consideration, which device impresses you the most? Before making your final decision, consider going back to look at your initial list of features and expectations to see if the one you like matches your criteria.
A Guide to Buying Your Portable Tens Unit
Landing on the best TENS unit for your situation could end up being more challenging than you may think. While there are many different brands and models currently out there, not all of them are going to perform as well as they could.
Below you will find everything you need to know when considering buying a TENS unit. Once you’ve read this guide, you will feel more confident about purchasing the right TENS unit for your needs.
The Best TENS Unit Features
As you can see from the reviews we’ve shared above, each machine comes with unique features that are going to personalize your experience. Let’s take a look at how each TENS unit feature is going to determine the overall performance, and how it can improve your experience in general.
Modes and Programs
All TENS units are going to feature programs and modes. While some of them are only going to give you pre-programmed options, others are going to allow you to make your own personalized program by combining a variety of the machine’s features.
Believe it or not, some TENS machines come with preprogrammed modes for each part of the body. This means that instead of having to figure out the right program for your situation, all you need to do is select which part of the body you want to use it with, and it will begin a plan that’s suited specifically for this part of your anatomy.
One of the best ways that you can look for the right TENS unit is to find models that give you more than one massage program or mode. This way there’s a higher chance of you finding an application on your TENS machine that is going to suit your personal preferences.
If your TENS unit has many different outputs or channels, it’s going to perform a lot better than a TENS unit that doesn’t. An output or channel is required for the electric impulses to be sent through both electrode pads. Each pair of pads needs its own output, so the more channels or outputs you have, the more pairs of pads you can use simultaneously.
One of the best things about using multiple outputs at one time is that you can work on many different muscle areas simultaneously. This means that you won’t need to spend as much time hooked up to your TENS unit while still benefiting from it as much as if you were using it many times a day.
Another thing that’s great about using a TENS machine that is made with more than one channel or output is that you can use many electrodes at once. This means that you can attack one particular muscle group from a variety of angles, increasing your chances of reducing any pain you may feel in this muscle group.
The biggest takeaway from this is that the more outputs or channels you have, the more effective your TENS machine is.
Levels of Intensity
Most TENS machines offer different levels of intensity, which can be beneficial. The more intensity levels you have to choose from, the more you can customize your TENS experience to suit your needs.
This is because sometimes you may want to use your TENS machine to enjoy a relaxing, gentle massage, and in this circumstance, you would put it on a low-intensity level. At other times you could be wanting a more intense massage that targets a deeper discomfort, so for this, you would choose a higher level of intensity.
If your TENS unit has an adjustable intensity setting like this, you will be able to use it along with other members of your family. Because each person has her or his own personal preferences and sensitivity to this type of muscle treatment, having many different levels of intensity is going to be essential to your overall experience.
While the number of intensity levels that you receive on your TENS unit is important, the difference between each level is also something to take note of as well. This is because there are a few brands out there that don’t differentiate their intensity levels enough, which means you won’t be able to notice enough of a difference when you change the level of intensity. You want to invest in a TENS machine that has made each intensity level different.
Most TENS machines will feature a timer that usually has two purposes. The first and most important is as a safety measure, but it can also be useful for your overall TENS experience.
If you forget to turn off your TENS machine after you’ve used it, the timer will make sure that it doesn’t stay on for longer than you need. This is going to help save the life of the battery, as well as the life of the electric pads.
Using the timer feature can also be helpful because it indicates how much time you’re using the TENS machine for. This is because using it for too long can actually become uncomfortable and even cause bruising, especially if you’re not used to using one.
On the other end of the spectrum, using a TENS unit for a small amount of time can also have next to no effect. This is where the timer can also be helpful – it lets you know when your muscles have had an adequate amount of stimulation.
A lot of TENS machines that are on the market also come with an EMS feature. Because TENS units are already useful for electrically stimulating your nerves, a lot of TENS manufacturers will include an EMS feature so that your muscles can be stimulated too.
There are some TENS models out there that include special programs for this feature, while others will have an EMS massage setting instead of the conventional TENS one when you increase the level of intensity.
Combining these two ways of electrically stimulating your muscles comes with its advantages, which include being able to effectively deal with chronic pain a lot better than a TENS machine without EMS would be able to.
When you get your TENS unit, it will most likely come with a display that makes it easier to keep track of all the settings that you have activated. This also allows you to stay on top of any changes to the settings you are making so that you can customize your personalized experience a lot easier.
While the screen part of the machine isn’t why you buy one, it’s definitely a feature that makes the entire process a lot easier. If you’re someone that’s going to be doing other things while using your TENS unit, then having a large screen is going to make the entire process more efficient and easier to execute.
Perhaps you’re planning on using your TENS machine while you’re driving to work in the morning. If you’ve got a big screen, then you won’t have to be too distracted trying to see what it says with any given time. Additionally, this will also allow you to make adjustments quickly and easily.
If the size of the screen is essential to you, then you’re also going to want to make sure the TENS machine you get has a backlight for the display. This means you will be able to use it with ease when you don’t have a lot of light, for example, if you’re planning on using it before going to bed.
When thinking about the right TENS unit to buy, you’re going to want to consider the lifespan of the battery, as well as the type it is. Of course, picking a TENS unit with a battery that has a long lifespan is going to be to your advantage – but you also need to take note of the type of battery it uses as well.
Some TENS machines come with rechargeable batteries that are built in, which means that all you have to do is plug the TENS unit in when the battery runs out. This is a great option if you’re someone who’s always on the go and needs a TENS machine that has minimal maintenance.
Other TENS machines are store-bought battery powered, which means they’re going to require either AAA or AA batteries to run. While this is not nearly as good as having a rechargeable battery, it’s still relatively easy – and batteries like this don’t cost too much to replace. If you buy them in bulk, they can be really affordable.
There is a small group of manufacturers that use 9V batteries for their TENS machines. These batteries do typically last longer than AAA or AA batteries; however, they aren’t as easy to find and can be more expensive. Additionally, a battery as specific as this probably isn’t going to work with other devices and gadgets that you use batteries for, so you won’t be able to buy a lot of them for a better price.
By far the most critical accessories that TENS machines come with are the lead wires and the electrode pads. Let’s take a look at how each accessory determines your TENS experience:
The lead wires are what connects the TENS machine to the electrode pads. A lead wire is fed into an output and carries the electrical current from the TENS machine to the pads. While the length of the lead wire matters, so does the design.
If you’ve got a TENS machine with long lead wires, then you’re not going to have any issues applying the pads to the appropriate muscles groups. The design of the lead wire is also important because it’s responsible for connecting the two pads to one another. What this means is if the lead wire itself is long, but the distance of the lead wire between the two pads is short, you’re not going to be able to use both pads simultaneously on different parts of the body.
Therefore, the best TENS units offer a lead wire that’s not only long initially but also has a reasonable distance of length between the two pads as well.
These active components of your TENS machine have adhesive surfaces so that the pads stick to your skin. This allows for the electricity to run through the pads to the nerves right underneath it. There are different designs for electrode pads, and each design has a different end goal in mind.
- Large Pads: larger pads are going to be best suited for you if you’re not a patient person. This is because they will be able to deal with multiple muscles in a short period. If you suffer from back pain, then your best bet is a TENS machine that comes with large pads. However, if you’ve got aching muscles that are localized, you’re not going to benefit too much from using large pads.
- Medium Pads: medium-sized pads are the most common. This is because they give you the opportunity to treat a decent area of your muscles, yet they can also be used to target localized pain if need be.
- Small Pads: small pad sizes are ideal if you experience joint or muscle pain, or knots in your muscles. These pads can’t cover a large surface area, so it’s going to take quite a while to treat each muscle group in your body. However, you are going to be able to target those localized areas that can be harder to treat with larger pads.
You can reuse electrode pads; however, not all of them are going to have the same lifespan. While some types of pads can be used again and again, others can only be used a few dozen times.
One thing to watch out for is that the manufacturer of your TENS unit is going to make it so that only pads made by them are compatible with the machine. However, there are some generic pad designs out there on the market that can be paired with most TENS machine designs, so if you don’t like the pads that came with your unit, you can look for an alternative.
Portability and Size
As you can imagine, TENS machines come in many different sizes and shapes. Both of these factors are going to determine how easy it is for you to use the unit, so it’s important to invest in the type of TENS unit that you feel suits you the most.
How portable a TENS unit is may be the most essential thing to consider when choosing the right one for you. While some TENS machines are roughly the same size as your phone, others are going to be a bit bigger, which means you’ll have to place it in a bag if you plan on taking it on the go.
To enable more portability for their TENs machine, some manufacturers include a belt you can attach. This means that you will be able to attach the TENS machine to your waist, which may be more comfortable than carrying it everywhere in your pocket.
There are also TENS unit companies out there that offer a case as an accessory as well. While the exterior of the case is hard, the inside is made to include the TENS machine, as well as all of its accessories.
Since most TENS machines are pretty small, however, using a case with it can actually make it less portable. It’s much easier just to place the accessories in a bag and place the unit part of the machine in your pocket to carry it around.
When you’re buying your TENS machine, you’re going to want to make sure that it comes with a warranty. This is because hopefully, you’ll be able to use it for a long time to come, even if it was an affordable model.
If your machine has an extended warranty, this is a good sign and indicates that the manufacturer is confident in their own product. Believe it or not, there are some manufacturers out there that are so confident in their TENS machines that they offer a lifetime warranty.
Interestingly, there are some TENS machines out there that don’t come with any warranty. The most they offer is a thirty-day money back guarantee. As you can imagine, buying a TENS machine this way can be pretty risky, because you may not notice any malfunctions within the first thirty days.
How Does a TENS Machine Work?
While a TENS unit may be small, the way they work to help relieve muscle pain is surprisingly complicated. The electrical current that the TENS machine produces travels through your skin to stimulate your nerve pathways. This is a gentle, non-invasive way to deal with muscle pain, and it comes with a lot of advantages.
To learn how a TENS machine works, you have to understand what is called the Gate Control Theory. This is the theory that our spinal cord is a gate, and when it opens and closes depends on the signals it receives from our brain. Some signals are going to tell the gate to close, while others are going to cause it to open.
According to the Gate Control Theory, a TENS machine interferes with these signals, especially the ones that tell your brain about pain. So, instead of responding to messages, it’s receiving from your spinal cord, your brain is responding to the signals being produced by the TENS machine. This means that even if your body is still producing pain signals, your brain won’t be able to receive them.
Additionally, a TENS machine can encourage the production of endorphins in the body. You may already know that endorphins help your body to deal with pain, which means that any pain you may be in can be reduced. According to this theory, the endorphins in our body interact with the pain in the same way that prescription medication does, just without the adverse side effects.
How to Use a TENS Machine
It’s important to remember that a TENS machine is a medical device. This means that you need to read the instructions carefully and use it in accordance. Let’s take a look at some general rules to apply when using a TENS machine:
- Stick the TENS machine pads to the parts of your body where you’re experiencing pain.
- Switch the unit on and begin at the lowest level of intensity.
- You can increase the intensity slowly as you need.
- Don’t place the pads on your mouth, throat, temples or sinus.
- Don’t place the pads over your heart or over inflamed parts of the body.
- Try not to touch the adhesive surface of the pads – this will help preserve their lifespan.
- Always charge the built-in battery of your TENS machine completely before using it.
- If the battery level is low, avoid using it.
- Always make sure the area of skin is clean before applying the pads.
- Store your TENS machine in a dry, cool place.
Final Thoughts on TENS Units
We’re confident that after reading through our comprehensive guide, as well as our TENS machine reviews that you can be confident when you choose which unit is right for your needs.
TENS units can be a safer alternative to traditional options for pain management.
TENS units should never be used until you consult with a doctor or other medical professional with experience in pain management as even low-voltage electrical current can cause burns or skin irritations. They are not intended to be used by people with certain health conditions. This technology has been proven to be effective for relieving pain.
Make sure the TENS machine you choose is FDA approved and that the product description absolutely gives you a detailed account of the device’s features, and because most devices are dual-channel nowadays, make sure that’s an option.
Other factors to consider include the battery (chargeable or not), ease of use, portability, accessories, extra pads or no, and an ample warranty. Consider your choice to be similar to that of choosing a new smartphone. The more features and higher quality options, the higher the price. It is more about what you can afford and what you want than how it looks or whether it is especially fancy or not.
It’s important to remember that the best TENS machine is not necessarily the most expensive one. It’s much better to find one that’s going to suit your personal needs.
No matter what, select a device that provides you with the best drug-free alternative to pain management and pain relief.
Every time you use your TENS machine, begin with the lowest level of intensity. Only increase this once you’re comfortable with how it feels. Do not place the pads on sensitive parts of your skin, and avoid using your TENS machine for prolonged periods.