Got pain? We are going to show you the best TENS units available, so you relieve that suffering and take your life back.
When you are suffering from chronic pain, it really diminishes your quality of life. You may lose interest in things that used to bring you joy, and find that your temper is short due to the constant effort of just maintaining throughout the day. This can be true even if your pain is temporary. Pain medications help but come with their own dangerous side effects – addiction to narcotics is just one potential problem.
A TENS unit is a safe alternative for pain relief. (TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.) This is a small device with electrodes attached to deliver a small current through the skin. This can cause some tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation; at higher settings it might make your muscle twitch.
It works for pain relief because these signals disrupt the pain messages being sent to the brain. It actually modulates the way you process the painful sensations. To put it another way, TENS closes the pain gate. Certain frequencies can also cause the body to release endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that we get after exercise. Endorphins are natural painkillers and signal the brain that all is well.
Using TENS for Chronic Pain
Research has looked closely at the potential of TENS units to control pain. The upshot is that it does work, but not necessarily for everyone. The cause of your pain makes a difference. Interestingly, it seems that TENS works more reliably for acute, rather than chronic, pain. That means you may feel more relief using it occasionally when that bad back flares up, rather than daily to manage the daily discomfort.
Still, some people swear by it for all sorts of pain. These units are quite affordable – often less than a one-month’s supply of pain medication – so it is certainly worth it to try. There are basically no adverse effects to using TENS. It won’t make you tired, interact with other medications, or harm your internal organs. You can even use TENS while doing other activities.
Features to Consider in Your TENS Unit
Most TENS units are basically the same, but there are some distinguishing features that can make one better for your particular case than the others. Following are some things to think about before making your choice.
A channel is simply a conduit between the base unit and the electrodes. If you have more than one channel, you can usually run more than one program at a time. This means that if you like a certain intensity on your back but your knees do better with a different intensity, you can treat them both at once.
TENS is a form of nerve stimulation that aims to block the painful signals from reaching your brain. EMS, on the other hand, stimulates the muscles. It can be helpful to have both functions, depending on your particular situation. TENS is more about relieving pain, while EMS is for rebuilding torn muscles. So if your pain has something to do with damaged muscles, consider getting a TENS and EMS combo unit.
Mode lock or protection
A lot of times you will want to be moving around while you use your TENS unit. After you set the program you like with the intensity you prefer, you don’t want it to change suddenly with an inadvertent bump. With a mode lock feature, or a simple cover over the setting buttons, you don’t have to worry about getting shocked by a sudden increase in intensity when you roll over or brush against the unit with your hand.
Some people like to use their TENS unit all day long when they are in pain. However, most units have a maximum length to any given program. When the program ends, you’ll need to reset the unit to keep it going. If you think you will use TENS for extended periods of time, look for a unit that has a longer maximum program length. Some go only 15 minutes or so. A typical max program time is about an hour, after which you may need to reset the program entirely. Some TENS units do retain the last program run.
All TENS units use sticky electrode pads that are applied to the site of pain. Most units come with a certain number of reusable pads that can last for some time. Eventually, you will need to buy new pads. Consider the cost of replacements before you choose your best TENS unit. You may also want to choose a unit that can take multiple sizes of pad.
Before You Begin – Remember This
As with any pain relief regimen, TENS reduces the discomfort you feel but does not actually heal the underlying cause. People can easily be tricked into a false sense of security when they feel better, and as a result, overdo activities they have been putting off. Just remember that even though you feel fine, your body still has healing to do.
TENS is not suggested for everyone. People with poor sensation, pregnant women, and people with cancer or a pacemaker should not use a TENS unit. It is also not for use around the heart, on the head, or over breast tissue. The most common place of use is the back, followed by joints.
Talk to Your Doctor
TENS units are available for purchase online or at a pharmacy, but you should still speak to your doctor before beginning a TENS regimen. You will probably be encouraged to give it a try as a non-invasive, drug-free method of pain relief. But only your doctor will be well-versed enough in your entire medical history and the statistics surrounding TENS to determine if it is the right choice for you. He or she might want you to speak to a physical therapist who can help fine tune the setting that will be ideal for your condition.
Best 5 TENS Units
Start here with at-a-glance specs on the top five TENS units available.
(1) 9 volt
8.8 x 2 x 7.8 in.
7 ¾ x 2 3/16 x 1 5/8 in.
4.1 x 2.2 x 0.4 in.
7.75 x 2.25 x 0.75 in.
6.1 x 3.5 x 3.1 in.
Following are in-depth reviews of each product.
1 TENS 7000 2nd Edition Digital TENS Unit with Accessories
TENS 7000 has been making these devices for over 10 years now, so there has been plenty of time to work out the kinks. When you choose this product, you know you’re getting a well-designed and effective piece of equipment. Long a favorite of doctors, you can now buy a TENS 7000 over the counter to receive clinical strength relief.
This 2nd edition TENS unit is equipped with multiple modes of therapy, including normal, modulation, burst, strength duration 1, and strength duration 2. The overall intensity range is 2 Hz to 150 Hz. To use, simply connect the provided lead wires and place the other end with electrodes on your skin. This is a dual channel unit; each channel controls two electrodes.
The electrode pads are reusable, and users report getting about 5-8 uses per pad. TENS unit replacement pads, when you need them, may be purchased from the official TENS 7000 Pads line or from StimChoice Pads and inTENSity At Home Pads.
When you order this TENS device you get the base unit, two pairs of lead wires, one four-pack of reusable premium electrodes (pads), one 9-volt battery, and a quick start guide instruction manual. You’ll also get a hard-sided carrying case to keep it all together.
- 8.8 x 2 x 7.8 inches
- 10 oz.
- One year warranty
- Setting dials are protected with an attached cap so they can’t change accidentally
- Powerful output runs on just one 9-volt battery
- Reusable pads save money
- Directions for setting the device are not as thorough as some users hoped
- Drains battery quickly
- When one channel fails it halves the number of electrodes that are usable
2 HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit with 4 outputs, apply 8 pads at the same time, 15 modes Handheld Electrotherapy device | Electronic Pulse Massager for Electrotherapy Pain
This TENS unit from HealthmateForever is designed for ease of use. It has buttons that are labelled with various parts of the body rather than confusing terms like “pulse-width” or “waveform.” Once you choose an area of the body to target, there is a large LCD display that describes what type of action you need for that area – kneading, acupressure, cupping, or scraping – as well as the time left on the timer.
There are 15 total modes, including 9 auto stimulation programs and 6 selectable massage settings. It comes with 4 total outputs but delivers the same intensity through each one. That means that you’re dividing the power if you only use one or two of the outputs. The unit has a convenient belt clip that makes it easy to wear on the go.
Your purchase includes the base unit, 4 sets of dual leads wires, 4 pairs of inserted pin electrode pads (8 pcs pads), 1 pad holder, 3 AAA batteries, an application placement chart, and a user manual. Note that this unit is a TENS/EMS combo. It delivers transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation as well as electrical muscle stimulation.
Specs7 ¾ x 2 3/16 x 1 5/8”
Two year warranty with registration only (buyer pays shipping fees)
- Easy to set and use, even on the go
- Long battery life
- Provides both TENS and EMS stimulation
- Control unit is a bit too large for most pockets
- Buttons are not backlit and can be difficult to read in low light
- Buttons are not protected and can be bumped accidentally
3 AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator Machine with 20 Modes, 2" and 2"x4" TENS Unit Electrode Pads
This Auvon TENS unit provides the benefit of running two different programs at once. Choose separate programs and intensities for different parts of your body and treat them both at the same time. There are 20 modes total, including kneading, shiatsu, and hammering to relieve pain caused by muscle fatigue, injury, or degenerative disease in shoulders, knees, lower back, and more.
The included electrode pads are super long lived - reusable up to 20 or 30 times. The 2” pads are ideal for smaller areas like the knees or elbows, while the larger 2” x 4” pads relieve pain on larger areas including the back and shoulders.
Your purchase includes four each of the larger and smaller pads, two lead wires, one USB cable and USB charger, a pad holder, a pouch, the user manual, and a one-year warranty. Customer service is friendly and responsive if you have any questions about the product.
Specs4.1 x 2.2 x 0.4 inches
One year warranty
- Easy to program and use; can run multiple programs at once
- Long life per charge
- Compact enough to carry in a pocket
- No EMS function
- Timer tops out at one hour then modes reset to default
- Rechargeable battery has diminishing life over time (like a cellphone)
4 Santamedical Electronic Tens Unit Handheld Pain Relief Pulse Massager
If portability is your main concern, try this TENS unit from Santamedical. At just 5.3 ounces, it is barely larger than a remote. You don’t sacrifice any power, though. It has fully adjustable speed and intensity with three massage programs and ten different intensity levels. Like the Auvon, you can treat two different parts of the body (or two people) at once with a different program and intensity for each.
The design includes an LCD screen that clearly displays your settings. Modes are labeled by the targeted part of the body, but you don’t have to stick with them if the “back” setting feels better on your shoulders. Change the settings on the fly if the intensity is too hard or soft. The timer on each mode runs for 15 minutes.
This unit comes with four attachment pads and four AAA batteries to get you started. It’s a purchase you can feel good about because the device is manufactured in an ISO-9001 factory; that means that it conforms to international standards in the manufacture of medical devices.
- Sticky pads are reusable for a long time
- Quality manufacturing
- Lightweight and very portable
- Unit needs to be turned off and on again after each 15 minute cycle
- Runs through lots of batteries
- Dials turn in opposite directions; counterintuitive
5 TEC.BEAN Tens Unit Rechargeable Mini Massager with 12 Modes and 8 Pads Muscle Stimulator for Pain Relief and Management
Flexibility is the prime selling point of this TENS unit. It has 16 different massage modes, including acupuncture, cupping, tapping, magnetic field therapy, and more. Each type of massage can be further customized with 20 different intensity levels. The timer function defaults at 20 minutes, but you can set any amount of time from 10 to 60 minutes.
The TEC.BEAN is compact and easily carried in a back pocket. It is manufactured with CE and ROHS certifications, so you can count on its reliability. The liquid crystal display screen is easy to read and even easier to set. Don’t mess with disposable batteries; this unit has a rechargeable lithium ion battery that is effective for 10 hours of continuous use before you’ll need to recharge.
Another nice feature is the lock option. By pressing the middle button for three seconds, you ensure that your program will not get unexpectedly changed by a bump or jostle. Your purchase comes with 8 reusable pads that require no gel to apply.
- Relieves pain all over the body
- Easy to do other activities, even sports, while wearing it
- Rechargeable battery
- Warranty information unclear
- Instructions are in a tiny font that’s hard to read
- No belt clip
Potential Side Effects of Using TENS
Consumer TENS devices are considered extremely safe with little risk of dangerous side effects. The worst that could happen is that you receive a mild shock, but nothing powerful enough to actually injure you. These consumer models are set with relatively low top ends of power. TENS used in a therapeutic environment, such as at the doctor’s or chiropractor’s office, will often deliver stronger pulses but be monitored carefully in a clinical environment.
Other potential side effects of TENS are:
- Numbness and tingling around the site of the electrodes.
- Sensory overreaction – unusual nerve response.
- Skin irritation around the electrode site.
There are no recorded reports of actual nerve damage or ill effects from using TENS, though it does not work for everyone. The science on how and why it works at all is a bit unclear, but the prevailing theory is that it interrupts pain signals by stimulating the nerves and muscles around the hurt area.
EMS as a Complementary Treatment
There are is one similarity and several key differences between the two treatments. Both deliver low voltage electric impulses to stimulate tissues, however:
- TENS stimulates the nerves to keep pain signals from reaching the brain.
- EMS causes the muscles to contract by replicating the signals that cause this action.
When you consider TENS vs EMS, think about what you ultimately need from the treatment.
Popular Uses for TENS
TENS is primarily a pain relief tool that disrupts signals caused by chronic and acute pain. Common conditions that could benefit from TENS include:
- Arthritis/joint pain
- Back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Foot pain
- Menstrual cramps
- Multiple sclerosis
Popular Uses for EMS
While TENS is used mostly for nerve pain, EMS targets muscles. It is most frequently used for:
- Muscle strengthening
- Rehabilitation after injury
- Preventing or reversing muscle atrophy
- Increasing blood circulation
- Muscle relaxation
- Cosmetic muscle toning
If you are suffering chronic or acute pain, it’s worth it to try a TENS unit. Though it doesn’t work for everybody, it is a trusted device that has been used in doctor and physical therapy offices for many years. A professional TENS unit is more powerful that one you can purchase over the counter, but home versions are still able to disrupt the pain signals fired off by damaged nerves. The best TENS unit for you depends on your overall goals, but we are confident that one of our reviewed models will fit the bill. Thousands of users are leading happier and more comfortable lives because of TENS. You can be one of them, too!