For years we have continually tested and reviewed the best TENS units on the market. We are delighted to share our latest buying guide, highlighting our top three picks with you.
We spend a minimum of two weeks living with each new product, in order to fully understand its functionality, benefits and any drawbacks.
Whether you’re looking for your first ever machine – or considering upgrading your current TENS unit – our lowdown will clear things up and ensure that you’re looking at the right devices to help relieve your pain.
Below are some of the top TENS units on the market today:
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10 Top-rated TENS units: Compare features, price and ratings
In the table below you can compare the machines discussed on this page and discover the best TENS unit.
- Click on a device image / name for further product information and to read consumer reviews
- Rating is out of 10 and based on our system, a combination of: features, ease of use, value for money
- The price column displays an approximate price range to give an indication of costs. Prices can vary due to special offers and promotions. Here are the ranges:
$ = entry level | $$ = mid-range | $$$ = high-end
|iReliev Playmakar Wireless TENS and EMS Unit||Quad|
|TechCare Plus 24||Dual||4||24||20||Rechargeable|
|iReliev Strength & Recovery TENS & EMS System||Dual||4||14||25||3 x AAA||$$||8.2|
|TENS 7000||Dual||4||5||8||1 x 9V||$||8.2|
|Zewa Spabuddy Sport||Dual||4||8||30||3 x AAA||$$||7.7|
|truMedic PL-009||Dual||4||5||10||4 x AAA||$||7.2|
|Omron PM3030||Single||2||3||5||2 x AAA||$||6.3|
- Last updated
- Other recent updates
Previously, we had HealthmateForever’s T24AB2, however we were blown away by PlayMakar after spending almost a month testing it out.
The completely wireless system has quad channel capabilities, is rechargeable, and offers an unbelievable specification for the price.
We’ve also added TechCare’s Plus 24 to the comparison table, it’s a device that impressed us a great deal when we tested and reviewed it recently.
Earlier in the year we replaced the T24AB with the more recent model (the T24AB2) as our pick. While the devices have practically the same specification, this upgraded version has four outputs, giving you the option of using up to eight pads during your therapy.
Those with a keen eye for detail will also notice a subtle change in design and style for the outer shell of this newer machine, compared to the previous iteration.
November 3, 2015: after using and testing iReliev’s Strength & Recovery TENS & EMS System, we’ve rated it and added it to the table above. We’re currently putting the full review together for this impressive TENS and EMS combination unit. It will be on the site sometime soon.
Our top rated pick
Our top-rated pick, PlayMakar from iReliev not only has TENS capabilities for pain relief but also has EMS massage programs for exercise preparation, recovery, and muscle conditioning. The combination of TENS and EMS programs make this a versatile all round electrotherapy device.
iReliev PlayMakar Wireless TENS and EMS Unit
With some some killer features and wireless capabilities to boot, this versatile unit is one of the best designed and most discreet that we’ve used.
Rated: 8.5 / 10
PlayMakar offers 14 programs in total with 8 of them being for TENS and 6 of them for EMS. The TENS programs are named by number: P1, P2, P3, etc. In our thorough month long testing of the device, we found each of the 8 programs to be diverse, offering something very different to the next one. (P8 is a program that has been developed specifically for arthritis).
The set button, along with the + and – keys on the remote are used to cycle between the programs. Operating the device is simple, as it has been designed so that only four buttons are required to do everything.
Unlike normal wired units, PlayMakar only requires one pad per channel. One pad does the job of two. This is something we really like, it means you don’t have to place two pads on your body to treat one area. It makes the whole experience of using the device much simpler, quicker and nicer. So for example, using two wireless pods and pads on this machine would be the equivalent of four pads on a standard dual channel device (such as our budget pick, TechCare’s Plus 24).
Treatment times can be set from 5-60 minutes and as with the programs and intensity levels, are set independently for each channel, meaning you could have a little longer on one area if you wanted.
Unlike most other devices, PlayMakar’s channels are fully isolated, enabling you to select not only the intensity level but different programs and treatment times for each channel.
The device has 25 intensity levels, which is more than most. This gives you a great deal of control over the strength of the treatment. Most of the other devices we’ve considered in this guide have 20 levels but some have considerably less. Having more levels at your disposal is desirable as it enables you to fine-tune strength of the stimulation. During our testing of PlayMakar, we didn’t go past level 14 for any of the TENS programs so it was more than strong enough, with plenty left.
The wireless receiver pods push onto the pads through a snap fit. This proprietary fitting does mean that they only work with iReliev’s own pads. However, they do have a subscription service for the pads, which brings down the price considerably.
Setting up the device and pairing it with the wireless receiver pods was straightforward, it didn’t require any complicated bluetooth pairing. Once we’d done the initial charge of the system it was literally a case of turning the remote and pods and they paired with each other automatically.
PlayMakar ships with the first two pods for channels 1 and 2. The pods for channels 3 and 4 can be purchased separately so you can take advantage of all four channels.
When we were testing this unit we kept records of battery performance and got 6 hours and 22 minutes from the wireless receivers before they needed recharging and 8 hours and 2 minutes from the hand remote.
A key benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked with this wireless setup is how discreet it is. With no wires running from the controller to the pads, you can use this without anybody knowing. Ideal for situations such as the office, when only you need to know about it.
We believe that once you’ve made the switch to a wireless device you won’t go back to a wired unit. It’s convenient, discreet and a much more streamlined experience.
We especially like how it remembers your previous session’s settings so next time you switch it on, the program and timer are exactly the same as last time. This is useful, especially if you’ve found a program you particularly like and use most of the time. With most units you have to cycle through the programs and set the timer again each time you use it, even if you want to do the exact same thing as last time.
The system comes with a made to measure hard shell carrying case to keep the device and accessories in. It’s been extremely well considered. As well as providing a home for everything, it offers a layer of protection for any accidental drops. The compactness and weight of the device and pods – coupled with the carrying case – make this a highly portable setup that can be taken anywhere, to provide on the spot pain relief.
Any potential drawbacks?
PlayMakar’s screen isn’t as big compared to most of the competition, however it has been well designed and is very clear and easy to read, the information is well spaced out. At no point did we have any problem reading the information it displayed. The size of the screen contributes to the overall compactness of the hand remote.
The features iReliev have incorporated into the system make it a premium priced product so the initial investment is higher than majority of other units we’ve evaluated.
Our budget pick for under $50: TechCare Plus 24
If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to try TENS for the first time and don’t want to compromise too much on features (who does!?) our budget pick, TechCare’s Plus 24 is a tantalizing proposition.
TechCare Plus 24
Simple, intuitive to use, a large backlit display and with a whopping 24 modes, TechCare’s Plus 24 hits the sweet spot between price and features.
Rated: 8.3 / 10
Plus 24 has (you guessed it) 24 TENS stimulation modes, more than you’ll find on most units, our other two picks included. The modes are categorized into six groups with names such as ‘kneading’, ‘cupping,’ ‘reflexology’. Each of the groups has four modes within them and while some of the modes in the same groups may be similar to each other, none of them are overly similar. (We documented this in the full review of Plus 24.)
The device is dual channel which means you can treat two body parts (or for example, both sides of the back) at the same time. It has 20 intensity levels and while not as many as our other two picks it’s certainly enough to be able to control the level of current and we were never found wanting for any more. The round A / B button on the controls toggles between the two channels and then you simply press + or – to increase or decrease the strength of treatment.
A standout feature of this model that we love is the 20-hours of use its rechargeable battery provides. This is substantially longer than most of its rivals so ideal for those who want portability and to not worry about it running out of charge on them.
We found the unit to be unit to be simple and easy to use, with no unnecessary controls. The default treatment time is 20 minutes, this can be increased though with just a push of the T key. After the session is complete the unit automatically switches itself off to preserve (that splendid) battery.
Another feature that impressed us immensely was the screen. It’s backlit (so you can use it in the dark) and really big (3.75 inches to be precise) and covers almost the entirety of the front of the unit.
While it doesn’t come with a dedicated carrying case like our top pick does, it ships in a lovely box that’s sized perfectly, giving you somewhere to store the device between uses.
Plus 24 offers superb bang for the buck, making it a popular choice for those wanting a feature-rich device without having to make a larger investment.
Could it be improved?
The only slight flaw we think worth noting is that there aren’t any pad placement diagrams in the instruction manual.
Our mid-range pick
Our mid-range pick is based on simplicity and ease of use. While Zewa’s SpaBuddy Sport might not be as modern as its competition, it’s one of the best choices out there for the novice.
Zewa SpaBuddy Sport TENS Pain Therapy
Even the most technically challenged would struggle to go wrong with Zewa’s SpaBuddy Sport. The (almost) perfect entry level device.
Rated: 7.7 / 10
It’s hassle free and what’s especially nice about this machine compared to many others is that it has separate sets of intensity controls for each channel. With our top rated pick you have to use the controls to select the channel first and then adjust the intensity for that particular channel. With SpaBuddy Sport we particularly like how you simply press the sets of arrow buttons to increase or decrease the intensity for the two channels. We found that the way the interface has been designed means a little less navigating through the controls during the session.
It has 8 programs for TENS, the same as our top rated pick (but don’t forget that has 6 for EMS as well). These 8 offer contrasting stimulation patterns and should be ample for most people. The device’s 30 intensity levels is one of the largest number out there, it gives you an abundance of control over the strength of the current.
While the unit is small, SpaBuddy Sport’s screen size is generous and the information has been laid out with plenty of space around each item. Our only reservation with the screen is that it’s not backlit like our top pick.
The timer can be adjusted very easily, with just one button required – and a session can be set for between 5-95 minutes – or you can opt for the continuous setting.
One other slight drawback is that it’s not rechargeable, like our top pick. However, you should be able to get 10 hours of use from a high quality set of 3 x AAA batteries. We believe that any potential drawbacks with this machine are outweighed by the benefits.
Our opinion is that SpaBuddy Sport’s usability is superior to many of the newer more modern TENS units. It’s a great entry level choice, especially for first time TENS users and anybody who is more challenged by operating technology.
In a perfect world…
The device would be rechargeable and the screen would be backlit.
TENS unit reviews: Our rating process
For a more detailed look at specific models and in-depth product analysis we’ve put together a series of TENS unit reviews, these can all be found in this section of the site.
Our research and reviewing process is detailed and comprehensive – but our reviews are uncomplicated and simple to understand. They have been designed in a way that makes them easy to digest, with supporting diagrams, examples and case studies. On top of this, our process is constantly evolving to make it even better.
We highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each unit we review and provide a balanced argument – for or against – with pros and cons. Most importantly, we like to provide context and scenarios to help paint a clearer picture.
Our final appraisal of the device takes into account its features, how easy or difficult it is to use and what sort of value for money it represents. This format enables you to directly compare one machine against another.
Other devices to consider
Next, we’re going to take a look at some other highly rated units in different price ranges.
TENS units for under $50: highly affordable devices
When researching machines in the sub $50 price bracket there are (perhaps surprisingly) a number of excellent options.
While you may be compromising on fancy features such as a backlit screen, the battery being rechargeable, etc. – you will still be able to find an effective device. At present, there are great deals to be had…
Some of the most popular and top-rated devices include: the truMedic PL-009, TENS 7000 and Omron electroTHERAPY Pain Relief Device PM3030.
To get a better idea of the PL-009, its proportions, and controls you can watch this short video below:
The TENS 7000 and PL-009 both have small LCD displays, whereas Omron electroTHERAPY’s PM3030 is more basic and is operated with four simple buttons, something that could be advantageous to those who aren’t as comfortable using modern electronic devices, (this is discussed in more detail in our review).
The buttons are large and clearly marked, something that would be beneficial to people who struggle to read smaller text and graphics. This simplicity of this device is one of the main reasons why users rate it so highly.
When reviewing the PL-009 I did discover that it’s possible to knock the intensity dials by accident and send it from a low level to the highest, totally unintentionally! Just something to be aware of.
TENS 7000 has protective covers over the dials and controls to stop this happening. Handy, hey?
That being said:
It hasn’t put too many people off the PL-009 – it’s been a #1 best seller on Amazon.com – and was for a long period of time.
The reason I chose this is because it represents fantastic value for money and runs off a 9V battery. (Last time we checked it could be purchased for just under $29).
Most of the budget machines use AAA batteries, which is fine, however the 9V battery may be the reason this powerful device offers greater battery life.
TENS 7000 also has more modes than those other two machines and an adjustable timer that can be set anywhere from 1 to 60 minutes.
And let’s not forget to mention that it’s nice and compact, making it portable and easy to take with you.
It performs well and boasts an impressive set of features, hardly surprising it’s one of the best-rated TENS units in its price bracket.
You can fine-tune the numerous settings with this device for optimal results. See exactly what I found out when I researched and reviewed the machine.
Mid-range TENS units: portable powerhouses
Research the middle of the market and you will find machines that have a little more to offer than the budget devices, in terms of features and specifications.
Spending a small amount extra opens the doors to machines with rechargeable batteries, large screens, etc. In fact, one of our favorite and top-rated devices is HealthmateForever’s HM8ML.
The first thing I need to say about this unit is its size.
This smart little thing looks like an MP3 player – and is the size of one. It’s compact, lightweight, and one of the most portable TENS units around.
People who want something that they can carry round in their bag should look no further.
The HM8ML isn’t just a TENS machine. HealthmateForever devices are TENS/EMS combination units and are rechargeable.
So not only do you get the benefits of TENS pain relief, you can stimulate your muscles as well.
Especially useful for active sports people. HealthmateForever HM8ML is extremely powerful for its size and has a number of impressive features.
I’d recommend looking at Zewa’s SpaBuddy Sport. Many users have claimed that this machine (powered by 3 AAA batteries) is as effective as the one used by their physical therapist.
Perhaps the most useful thing about it is the size of the screen.
You’ll struggle to find a TENS machine with a simpler and clearer screen than the SpaBuddy Sport.
So if a top quality display is high on your list of priorities, this could be the device you’ve been searching for.
It’s also excellent value, it can be found for about $60 – possibly less – meaning that it’s right at the lower end of the price bracket.
There’s no doubt:
This machine can compete with much higher priced units.
I’m unable to split the Zewa SpaBuddy Sport and HealthmateForever HM8ML.
They’re two highly rated but very different devices, with contrasting sets of features. The decision would have to be based on the individual’s needs.
Top-of-the-line TENS units: features galore
HealthmateForever’s Pro15AB had been receiving rave reviews – and it’s easy to see why.
This is one of the higher priced HealthmateForever units but comes with a wealth of features and certainly justifies the cost.
The backlit screen is nice, the fact it’s rechargeable is great – and I love that it has EMS as well.
However the best is yet to come…
The Pro15AB is a dual channel device, which means that you can treat two areas simultaneously. Other HealthmateForever machines (including the Pro-8AB) can do this too.
So “what’s the big deal?”, you ask.
The Pro15AB is not only a dual channel device, it has fully isolated channels. What that means to you is that you can operate it like two separate machines at once.
You are treating some pain around your shoulders. You’re also struggling with some aches in your lower back. With this nifty machine you can treat both at the same time but run different programs and settings for each.
This innovative feature (which HealthmateForever pioneered) makes it superior to almost all other dual channel TENS units, where you can only run one program at a time. You effectively have two machines in one.
It’s a clever piece of kit that comes with all the benefits a HealthmateForever device provides, and much more! Unsurprisingly, I’ve given this machine a very high rating!
To see one of these splendid HealthmateForever devices in action, have a watch of the video below. If you are considering this for back pain jump to 1:32 where you can see the machine being used on the back.
The first modern, patient-wearable TENS unit was patented in the United States on June 18, 1974.
How to choose a TENS unit
Step 1: what do you need your machine to do?
Before you start looking, it would be smart to think about exactly what you require from the unit, apart from the obvious (pain relief). Don’t just throw the first unit you like the look of into your basket!
Some people will want their device to be rechargeable. Others will place a higher emphasis on how many areas they can treat simultaneously, (this is determined by the number of pads that can be connected).
The best thing to do here is to write down what you want from the unit. Put these into a list and order them by importance.
If you’re not entirely sure about what you need, why not speak with your doctor or physical therapist and seek their advice? They should be able to point you in the right direction.
Below, we’ve put together a guide of how we carry out an evaluation and detailed assessment of a TENS machine. This may give you some ideas and help you to think about what you want your new unit to do.
The guide covers the things we consider, why we look at them, and what they mean to the consumer. Click here to jump to that section.
Step 2: set a budget and draw up a shortlist
Before you start trawling through online stores like Amazon, Walmart, and Target:
Set a maximum budget – and stick to it.
This will help you narrow down your search. If you don’t do this you could spend an inordinate amount of time – looking at machines – that you’re not even in a position to buy.
Put together a shortlist of say, up to 5 devices. These should all be within your budget and fit the criteria you set in step 1.
Step 3: narrow it down to 2 or 3 units
Now you can whittle the list down to 2 or 3. You may like to consider the following (along with any other criteria) when analyzing a machine’s suitability:
- Feature set
- Consumer ratings
- Value for money
Which 2 or 3 devices standout?
Step 4: research and analyze those units in greater detail
To assist this process, it would be prudent to delve a little deeper and study some consumer reviews:
- Are reviewers generally pleased with the product or displeased?
- Do you see any recurring issues or problems cropping up that would put you off buying the unit?
- Does it sound like the machine can perform the tasks you need it to, and effectively?
- How do the reviews, feedback, and ratings compare between the devices?
Step 5: make your choice
Taking into account everything from the previous four steps, which device really stands out?
This might be the time to revisit your original list of requirements and see if one fits them better than the other(s).
How to evaluate a TENS unit:
Before even looking at what a machine has to offer, there’s an extremely important step. Under no circumstances should this be overlooked.
Check that the device has been:
Cleared by the FDA as an over-the-counter (OTC) class II medical device.
If you come across a product that hasn’t, be very careful. Companies are not legally permitted to market their products as medical devices, unless they have this clearance.
For a more organized and systematic approach, these can be broken down into sub-sections.
Programs and modes
Not all but most modern-day OTC TENS units have preset programs (also referred to as modes by some manufacturers). These are designed to make it simpler for the user.
- What programs / modes does the machine have and what are they for?
- Would you use them and if so, how often?
Some machines (like TENS 7000) have less modes but offer fine-tuning of the treatment. Be aware though – they require more user-input – and you’ll need to familiarize yourself with things like pulse-width and wavelength.
Most people, especially first time buyers opt for devices with preset programs because they require less work to operate.
The majority of devices on the market today are dual channel with independent intensity controls.
This type of machine can be used with two or four pads (electrodes) at a time. Each channel has two pads and you can adjust the strength of treatment separately for each channel.
What’s important to factor in here is:
You can always use a dual channel device with two pads or four – but you can never use a single channel machine with more than two.
Add to that:
There’s hardly any difference in price between most single and dual channel devices nowadays. Therefore, there doesn’t seem to be much argument for choosing single over dual channel.
We’ve seen plenty of advancements so far this year and some modern units (a small number of HealthmateForever’s and this state-of-the-art iReliev model) have taken it a step further and even allow you to run completely different programs in separate channels.
- Is it a single, dual or four channel TENS machine?
- Is the intensity control independent for each channel?
You may be wondering:
About four (or quad) channel devices. These machines can be used with 2, 4, 6 or 8 pads.
An example of where this could be useful is:
For somebody who is suffering from back pain – and wants to treat a larger area than is possible with just 4 pads.
Firstly, when it comes to intensity:
The number of intensity levels does not reflect how powerful the device is.
If a machine has 50 levels, it doesn’t mean it has twice the power of a machine with only 25.
A device with 50 levels is going through the power range in increments of 2% at a time, whereas a machine with 25 is adjusted in increments of 4%.
- How powerful is the device?*
- How many intensity levels are there?
- How is the intensity adjusted?
*Obviously, it’s not going to be possible to go out and test the machines on your shortlist – to discover how strong they are. While some manufacturers specify the current intensity (strength) in mA, this information isn’t available for all devices. Therefore, it would be prudent to gauge user feedback and read some consumer reviews. You’ll be able to see whether others have found the machine to provide effective pain relief for similar symptoms.
Ease of use
Consider how the unit is operated and whether it’s suitable for you.
- How is the machine operated: what buttons and controls are there?
- Is everything clearly labeled / easy to identify?
- What is the screen like: is it clear and easy to read, is it backlit?
A lot of the newer, stylish, i-Pod like devices have built-in lithium rechargeable batteries.
There are a couple of main advantages when it comes to rechargeable machines:
- Convenience – no need to worry about running out of replacements
- Savings – not having the additional cost of replacement batteries
If the unit is rechargeable, think about:
- How is the battery charged, e.g. through the mains, USB?
- How long does a full charge last?
In both 2016, 2017 – and through 2018 – we’ve seen a great deal of new devices enter the market. One of the most notable things is how many of the modern units are rechargeable.
When you think about it, it’s hardly surprising. The technology has been around for a long time – but can now be incorporated into the product at a relatively low cost.
For machines that run off standard batteries (i.e. AA, AAA, 9V):
- What type of battery / batteries does it use?
- How many does it require?
- How long does each set last, is battery life good?
- How much do they cost to replace?*
*If you have a rough idea of how long you expect a set to last you can do some basic calculations. By estimating how many sets you will go through in a year, you can multiply the number of sets by the price per set.
While a rechargeable unit may require a higher initial investment, it’s worth considering how much can be saved on replacement batteries, especially over a period of time.
Size and portability
If you need some pain relief on the go, portability is going to be one of the most important factors. The last thing you’ll want is to be carrying a big, heavy brick-like object round in your bag.
If you’re machine is going to be solely for home use, this isn’t going to be quite as significant. However, it’s still worth thinking about:
- How big is the device?
- How much does it weigh?
- How does its size and weight compare to other machines?
- Does it ship with a carrying case / something to keep it safe in?
This may play a part in your decision, especially if you’re looking at affordable TENS units. While a few extra pads aren’t likely to influence a decision on a high-end machine, they could on a $30 product.
- What accessories come with the device?
- Do the accessories make the product better value for money?
- How does the set of included accessories compare to similar units on the market?
The majority of machines ship with a one-year warranty, a few have two year’s cover and some have cover for only 90-days. HealthmateForever’s devices, however, ship with a limited lifetime warranty.
- How long is the warranty?
- What does it cover?
- How does the warranty stack up against other units?
One of the best things about TENS machines is that they come in many shapes and sizes, with various features and capabilities. And of course, this means differing price tags.
Rest assured though:
Whether you have $30 or $300+ to spend – you will be able to find a TENS unit.
They all work the same way – by sending low voltage electrical impulses to the body, which then stimulate the nerves.
It’s like anything, the higher priced machines tend to have better specifications.
Think of it a bit like when you purchase a smartphone, you pay for more power, a better screen, battery, etc.
It’s the same principle with TENS devices. The key thing is to find the best TENS unit in your price range.
Most people probably wouldn’t need or even use all of the features on the highest priced TENS machines. So there’s no need to worry if you’re not in a position to invest in the most up-to-date top-of-the-line device.
Our individual TENS unit reviews go into more detail about specific machines, you may like to check them out. They can help you to work out what sort of device you can expect to get for your money.
Ask yourself the following:
- Is the product well priced?
- How does this compare to units with similar specifications?
- What ongoing costs will you incur, such as: replacement pads, batteries, any other consumables, etc.?
- How do these running costs compare to other devices?
Making your choice
As previously discussed, your new machine doesn’t have to cost the earth. Work out your priorities and look for the best unit within your budget.
If you can afford a top-of-the-line device, that’s great. But if you can only afford a basic model, worry not.
A lot of the affordable machines have excellent user feedback and are providing people with welcome pain relief, on a daily basis.
If you’re currently purchasing your first TENS machine, why not try an affordable device and see how you get on? Don’t forget, you can always upgrade at a later date.
Functions and Features
Programs / Modes
When considering which TENS unit is right for you, you’ll want to take a close look at the different programs and modes that the device offers.
Lower priced options might not offer the variety that you need, whereas more expensive feature-packed options may be too complex if you’re not competent with modern technology or are simply looking for a unit for casual use.
There are many different types of programs and modes available including tapping, cupping, acupuncture, fist and hand pressure.
If you don’t find a pre-programmed setting you like on a device then you’ll need a machine that allows you to manipulate the pulse width and pulse rate which will enable you to optimize the settings to treat your particular pain.
But beware, most of the modern units don’t offer this, they have only pre-programmed modes. However, a machine that we rate very highly has controls for both pulse width and pulse rate: TENS 7000.
A pre-programmed timer on your unit can be a handy feature if you want to simply set up your machine and use it for a predetermined length of time.
Timer lengths vary widely between units, often going up in increments, so be sure to check when shopping around. Many units also include an automatic shut off feature which can be short on some devices causing frustrating when you need a lengthier relief from pain.
You may also want to consider what kind of batteries your unit relies on. Standard replacement batteries are obviously easy to find, however some machines can be a little thirsty when it comes to power so you will need to have a stock of batteries at your disposable.
Of course the alternative is a rechargeable battery that might be more convenient if you need your device for daily use. (Many but not all of the newer modern machines are rechargeable.)
The majority of devices come complete with dual channels, which means you can use a different intensity level on two different areas or sides of your body.
If that’s an important feature to you make sure the device you’re considering offer this function, or if you want to target more than two areas then you might want to consider a four (quad) channel device.
The number of channels corresponds with the number of pads you can use, each channel has two pads.
Dual channel means you can have two pads per spot (four in total), a quad channel device means you can use up to 8 pads simultaneously.
You can always use a dual channel device with two pads or four – but you can never use a single channel machine with more than two pads.
As well as different programs and modes there are different intensity levels offered.
Reviewers of TENS units often speak about the intensity offered, with some finding their machine offers too much or too little intensity, which is why ensuring you have enough variety and power is important.
It’s important to remember that only because a device has a different intensity level doesn’t correspond to level of power.
The more intensity levels a unit has doesn’t mean it offers a higher amount of power. The intensity just moves up in smaller increments.
Certain units also include EMS, or electrical muscle stimulation.
TENS in its simplest terms relieves the pain by blocking pain signals, whereas EMS works to contract the muscle, so it’s ideal for sportspeople who want to not only manage their pain but also maintain their level of strength.
You can find out more about the differences between TENS and EMS here.
Another function that you can find on a handful of units is interferential therapy, which essentially works by sending two different levels of electric pulse to the site of the pain which confuses and interrupts the pain signals being sent to the brain. It gives you another option for your pain relief.
If portability is important to you, for example if you’re wanting to take the unit to the office or to the hospital for labor then you may want to consider the size of the device.
Devices vary widely in size, so do take a close look at the size of the machines and the pads so you can get exactly what you’re looking for.
It might seem unimportant but finding an appropriate screen that offers you the size, clarity and readability that you want is really important.
Some come with separate controls, others are touch screen so you might want to think about what you can work with, as there’s nothing more frustrating than having a system that you can’t operate or read.
What comes included with the unit? An in car charger? Additional pads? When comparing prices it’s important to look closely at exactly what is on offer.
For affordability you may want to research how much additional pads for the unit cost if required and also the cost of the recommended conductive gel.
They might seem like small considerations but if you love the unit and wear the pads out quickly, buying additional pads may become a regular expense.
Benefits of TENS
There are many potential benefits to TENS, here are a number of them:
Or at least the perception of pain, which of course sounds like an obvious benefit, however to clarify TENS works by blocking the pain signals being sent to the brain.
If for whatever reason you’re unable to use prescription drugs or you’d prefer not to, then TENS offers you a drug free option for your pain relief.
Use at Home
Of course, a unit can be used in the comfort of your home, you don’t need to travel anywhere for treatment or hire someone expensive to come in to your home.
TENS machines vary in price however there are some very strong and affordable options that you can see above, giving you a reasonably priced treatment option.
Easy to Use
A TENS unit is easy to use, with pre-programmed functions offered on most devices it’s easy to just switch on and go…
Good for Daily Use
…which of course makes it ideal for daily use!
TENS has also been shown to help reduce inflammation if the right settings are used. However of course check with your doctor before considering it for this use.
Who is TENS beneficial for?
TENS is used to treat a number of different conditions, both chronic and acute pain:
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and can cause intense pain that runs from your lower back down to your lower leg.
A TENS unit can help to relieve the pain by blocking the signals sent to the brain, so it is often recommended as a treatment option for those suffering from sciatica.
TENS has been proven through research to be effective in the treatment of menstrual cramps, with certain devices such as the Livia (a wearable device), designed solely for this purpose.
Low frequency electrical stimulation has been shown to improve symptoms of those suffering from Plantar Fasciitis.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
By using a dual channel machine on both sides of the hand and wrist, TENS can offer relief from the pain of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
TENS devices have also been recommended for relief from the pain of tendonitis, and as discussed earlier, they have been proven to help reduce inflammation.
Headaches and Migraines
Research has shown that TENS is effective in the treatment of headaches and migraines, not only in managing the pain but also as a preventative method.
As TENS stimulates the nerves one of the most common uses is to treat general nerve pain.
Those suffering from neuropathy are often offered tricyclic antidepressants as a first start of treatment, however a TENS device can be a drug free alternative.
This common complication of diabetes can respond well to TENS, however users are told to take care as some do report skin irritation from the electrode gel.
For those suffering from Fibromyalgia, TENS has been shown to reduce the pain, especially when combined with other treatments such as exercise.
Research seems to be mixed on the effectiveness of TENS in the treatment of arthritis, however many professional bodies and organizations (such as Arthritis Care) suggest it as an option for coping with the daily pain associated with arthritis.
Suggested as a drug free alternative during labor, TENS units help to block the pain signals being sent to your brain as your contractions intensify. They are thought to help by way of distraction, seemingly giving you control over your own pain relief.
Strong results have been seen from users who suffer from muscle spasms, improving not just the associated pain but also their range of motion.
What is a TENS unit?
What is a TENS unit?
What does a TENS unit do?
What does a TENS unit do?
How does a TENS unit work?
How does a TENS unit work?
What is a TENS unit used for?
What is a TENS unit used for?
Are TENS units safe?
Are TENS units safe?
Can you use a TENS unit while pregnant?
Can you use a TENS unit whilst pregnant?
Can a TENS unit help build muscle?
Can a TENS unit help build muscle?
Do TENS units work?
Do TENS units work?
Are TENS units effective?
Are TENS units effective?
What does a TENS unit feel like?
What does a TENS unit feel like?
Which TENS unit should I buy?
Which TENS unit should I buy?
Where can I buy a TENS unit?
Where can I buy a TENS unit?
How much is a TENS unit?
How much is a TENS unit?
Please ensure that you speak to your doctor, physical therapist or other medical professional prior to using a TENS unit. While you can purchase these devices over the counter (OTC) or online (without a prescription) – it is recommended that you consult with a professional first. Always read the instruction manuals thoroughly before operating a TENS machine. There are certain exclusions where people should not use the machines, such as those who have a pacemaker fitted. (Check for other exclusions before using and make sure it’s suitable for you.)
- Maurer, D. (1974) Transcutaneous stimulator and stimulation method U.S. Patent 3,817,254. [Online] Available from: https://patents.google.com/patent/US3817254 [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- University of Rochester Medical Center. (2018) TENS Therapy. [Online] Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=134&ContentID=127 [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Vance, C. G. T. et al. (2014) Using TENS for pain control: the state of the evidence. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4186747/ [Accessed 4 October 2017]. ↩
- Miller, J. (2018) What is Sciatica?. [Online] Available from: https://physioworks.com.au/injuries-conditions-1/sciatica [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Dawood, M. Y. & Ramos, J. (1990) Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for the treatment of primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized crossover comparison with placebo TENS and ibuprofen. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2179780 [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Natures Gate TENS. (2017) Using a TENS Machine to relieve pain associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. [Online] Available from: https://naturesgatetens.com/blog/using-a-tens-machine-to-relieve-pain-associated-with-carpal-tunnel-syndrome/ [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Ehrlich, S. D. (2016) Tendinitis. [Online] Available from: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/tendinitis [Accessed 4 October 2017]. ↩
- The Migraine Trust. (2018) Facts and figures. [Online] Available from: https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/facts-figures/ [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Brawley, O. (2009) How can I ease peripheral neuropathy pain?. [Online] Available from: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/expert.q.a/08/12/peripheral.neuropathy.brawley/ [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Hackethal, V. (2014) TENS for Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: Efficacy and Drawbacks. [Online] Available from: http://www.patientcareonline.com/diabetes/tens-diabetic-peripheral-neuropathy-efficacy-and-drawbacks [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Thompson, J. M. (2016) TENS therapy: An option for fibromyalgia treatment?. [Online] Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tens/expert-answers/faq-20058378 [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- BabyCenter. (2016) Using a TENS machine in labour. [Online] Available from: https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a542581/using-a-tens-machine-in-labour [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Maurer, D. (see footnote 1) ↩
- University of Rochester Medical Center. (see footnote 3) ↩
- Yu, F. C. (2015) Introduction to Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). [Online] Available from: https://exploreim.ucla.edu/news/introduction-to-transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation/ [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- University of Rochester Medical Center. (see footnote 2) ↩
- University of Rochester Medical Center. (see footnote 2) ↩
- University of Rochester Medical Center. (see footnote 2) ↩
- Patient. (2018) TENS Machines. [Online] Available from: https://patient.info/health/painkillers/tens-machines [Accessed 22 April 2018]. ↩
- Patient. (see footnote 19) ↩