Without pain, we would have a lot of trouble staying healthy. Think of all the pricks and bumps that you’ve experienced over the span of your lifetime. If you weren’t aware that your body needed attention, you may not have patched yourself up. Even minor wounds can develop into serious health problems if they’re not given the proper care. That’s why children with the medical condition known as CIPA (Congenital Insensitivity to Pain and Anhidrosis)– have to take special precautions when they play outside.
Pain that stops us from injuring ourselves is good, but chronic recurring pain is another matter entirely. According to the CDC, a whopping 20.4% of American adults suffered from chronic pain in 2016. People with chronic pain issues often resort to opioid drugs, many of which are addictive and have severe side effects. Anxiety, depression and decreased quality of life are just a few other common outcomes.
TENS devices provide a clinically proven, drug-free way to get instant pain relief. These inexpensive gadgets typically run on battery power and negate pain by sending small electrical pulses into the surface of the body. The pulses flood the nervous system and stop it from transmitting pain signals to the brain.
Here are the best Tens Units you can buy:
- TENS 7000’s 2nd Edition Digital TENS Unit delivers twice as much amperage as some competing TENS devices.
- Features like its built-in rechargeable battery supply make NURSAL TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator AS1080 ideal for relieving pain on the go.
- iReliev’s TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator has a mode that’s specifically designed to relieve arthritis pain.
- With its blue backlight and power-off timer, Massage Therapy Concepts’ TENS Unit and EMS Combination Muscle Stimulator TE2017 can be safely and effectively used in bed.
- HealthmateForever’s YK15AB TENS Unit has buttons that are arranged in a way that makes it easy to operate with one hand.
The most powerful TENS unit
TENS 7000 2nd Edition Digital TENS Unit
The TENS 7000 is one of the most powerful consumer-grade TENS units on the market. Some TENS machines you’ll find are only capable of delivering 50 milliamps, but this one delivers twice as much transcutaneous electrical stimulation.
- Voltage output scales all the way up to 100 mA. Most consumer-grade TENS units max out at 50 to 60 milliamps.
- Dual current mode lets you treat two areas at once. Each lead is capable of outputting 100 mA of electricity, even when you use both leads at the same time.
- Simple operation. Just attach the pads to your skin, then twist the knobs to the desired level.
- Established brand name. Over the past decade, TENS 7000 has sold over 1 million TENS devices.
- Convenient carrying clip. A clip located on the back of the device lets you attach it to a belt or purse.
- Comes with a storage case. All the accessories that come with the unit fit inside the sturdy, hard-shell case.
- Three-year warranty. You have three years to return your TENS 7000 if a manufacturing flaw causes it to malfunction.
- Large size compared to other TENS devices. Measuring 4 inches high, 2.5 inches wide and 1 inch thick, this TENS unit is about the same size as an old-fashioned cassette player.
- No satisfaction guarantee. You can’t send your TENS 7000 back for a refund if you simply don’t like it or aren’t satisfied with it.
In a nutshell
Other TENS units are more portable and some have better displays, but when it comes to raw power the TENS 7000 is hard to beat. That may be a reason why TENS 7000 has managed to sell over a million of these pain-nullifying gadgets over the past ten years.
The best compact TENS unit for traveling
NURSAL TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator AS1080
Most TENS units run on disposable batteries, but this one has a built-in power supply that you can charge with any USB port. This means that when you travel by plane, you can plug the AS1080 in and relax without having to worry about running out of battery power halfway through your flight.
- Smaller than most TENS devices. Measuring just 2 inches wide and 3 5/8 inches long, it’s small enough to take with you wherever you go.
- Built-in rechargeable battery. The fact that you can charge this TENS device with the included USB cord is another feature that makes it ideal for traveling. It also comes with an AC adapter.
- Included carrying pouch allows for easy storage and transportation. The pouch holds not only the unit itself, but also all its accessories.
- 16 different modes. Various pulse patterns simulate kneading, tapping, Shiatsu-style massage and more.
- Backlit display. The backlight lets you relieve pain in low light conditions.
- Lifetime warranty with a 90-day satisfaction guarantee. NURSAL will replace any of its products if a manufacturing defect causes a malfunction and will even pay for shipping costs if you send the device device back within 90 days.
- Confusing interface. Modes are identified by icons, which you probably won’t understand until you read the instruction manual.
In a nutshell
NURSAL’s TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator AS1080 is small and compact enough to comfortably fit in a pocket, yet it packs enough punch to soothe many types of aches and pains. The carrying pouch that you get when you buy the device makes it even more convenient for travelers.
The best TENS unit for arthritis
iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator
If you’re one of the 54 million Americans that have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, iReliev’s TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator may be the best TENS unit for you. Mode eight was specifically created to help relieve arthritis-related pain and has been cleared by the FDA. You’ll feel a wave-like pulsing sensation as up to 80 milliamps of electricity course through your body.
- Arthritis mode. This TENS unit supports 14 different therapy modes, including one that’s specifically designed to alleviate arthritis pain.
- 80 milliamp output strength. Many TENS units are only capable of outputting 60 milliamps or less.
- Provides pain relief and strengthens muscles. TENS mode numbs pain, while EMS mode stimulates muscle tissue.
- Dual mode treats two body regions at the same time. Using both leads at the same time doesn’t result in a reduction of pulse intensity.
- Comes with 12 pads. Most TENS unit manufacturers only put six to eight pads in the box.
- 45-day satisfaction guarantee, 2-year warranty. If it doesn’t meet your expectations, just send it back for a full refund.
- The small display has no backlight. If you have vision problems or plan on using your TENS device in low light conditions, you might want to choose one that has a larger screen and/or a backlight.
In a nutshell
This TENS unit from iReliev is more powerful than most, plus it has a mode that’s specifically designed to counter arthritis pain. The fact that iReliev backs up their products with an unconditional 45-day satisfaction guarantee is a sign that it’s committed to producing quality devices.
The best TENS unit for nighttime use
Massage Therapy Concepts TENS Unit and EMS Combination Muscle Stimulator TE2017
In addition to having a large, easy-to-read display that comes equipped with a blue backlight, Massage Therapy Concepts’ TENS Unit and EMS Combination Muscle Stimulator also has an auto-shutoff timer. This feature will stop you from draining its batteries if you accidentally nod off in the middle of a TENS session. Even if you forget to set a timer, the built-in rechargeable power source is easy to power back up again.
- Large, easy-to-read, backlit display. You won’t have to squint at the screen or turn on the light if you need to use your TE2017 at night.
- Adjustable timer. Since you can program it to shut off automatically, you can use it in bed without worrying about draining its battery power.
- Built-in rechargeable battery. The fact that you can charge this device with any USB port adds convenience.
- Can stimulate two body regions simultaneously. Dual mode lets you treat two separate areas simultaneously.
- Blocks pain and fortifies muscle tissue. Use EMS mode to strengthen your muscles, or TENS mode to block chronic pain.
- 60-day satisfaction guarantee, one-year warranty. Massage Therapy Concepts will give you a refund for up to 60 days if the TE2017 doesn’t meet your needs.
- Not as powerful as some TENS units. The maximum amount of current that the TE2017 can generate is 55 milliamps.
In a nutshell
The TE2017 is worth a look if you’re in the market for a TENS unit that you can safely use in bed. The fact that you can switch to EMS mode and use it to strengthen your muscles adds additional value. Many TENS units lack an EMS feature.
The most user-friendly TENS unit
HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS Unit
The most unique feature of HealthmateForever’s YK15AB TENS Unit is its convenient button pad. Since each button corresponds to a specific setting, there’s no need to cycle through a display menu each time you want to make a change. Another nice thing about the layout is that it’s arranged in a way that makes it easy to operate with one hand.
- Just push the button that matches the mode you want. There are no confusing menus to flip through, just physical buttons that correspond to all of the YK15AB’s main functions.
- Intuitive display. You won’t have to open the manual to understand the information that appears on the screen.
- Convenient belt clip. Strap it on your hip and take it with you when you go outside for a stroll around the block.
- Treats multiple areas of your body. Since it has four leads, you can send currents to eight different pads simultaneously.
- Muscle stimulation feature. Switch to PMS mode if you want to stimulate and strengthen your muscles.
- Lifetime warranty. HealtmateForever will replace your device if you discover a manufacturing defect.
- Not as powerful as some TENS units. It only outputs 50 milliamps, which is half as much current as some TENS devices are capable of generating.
- Restrictive return policy. There is a satisfaction guarantee, but it contains several caveats. If you send this device back to HealthmateForever, you’ll have to cover the shipping costs and pay a restocking fee.
In a nutshell
This TENS unit looks like a cordless landline phone and it’s equally as easy to operate. It can only output 50 milliamps, but that may not be a disadvantage for everyone. If you have sensitive skin you may not need much more power than that anyway.
Buying guide for TENS units
The most powerful consumer-grade TENS Units can transmit up to 100 milliamps. People with sensitive skin may not want to turn the power up that high, since long exposure to TENS pulses can sometimes cause irritation.
Number of leads
The more leads a TENS unit has, the more parts of the body you can massage at the same time. Some TENS units only have one lead, so they can only relieve pain in one area at a time. Others have two or four leads. Four-lead TENS units are useful for treating back pain, since you can attach up to eight different pads and treat a large surface area.
Internal battery vs. replaceable battery
TENS units tend to have pretty good battery life. They can run for up to 20 hours straight, on average, before they need a recharge. Still, if you intend to use your TENS unit on a long flight, you may want to get one with an internal battery that can be recharged with a USB outlet. That way, you can plug in your TENS unit and use it throughout your flight without having to worry about suddenly running out of power.
Switching modes will cause your TENS unit to vary the pattern of pulses that it sends into your skin. Many TENS units are capable of reproducing the effects of certain types of massages, like Shiatsu and others. Others have modes that are specifically designed to treat certain conditions, like arthritis.
You’ll definitely need a TENS unit that has a screen backlight if you plan on using your device in the dark or in bed before you go to sleep. Otherwise, you’ll need to use an external light when you want to change a setting.
TENS units that feature belt clips are convenient for people that need to use their device while standing. You can just apply the pad, turn on the device and then attach the unit to your belt.
Auto shut-off timer function
Definitely get a TENS unit with this feature if you plan on using your device before you sleep. If you leave your TENS unit on all night, you’ll wake up with irritated skin.
EMS stands for Electrical Muscular Stimulation. TENS units that have an EMS feature can stimulate your muscles and trigger small contractions. Studies show that EMS therapy helps improve muscle strength.
Some TENS units come with handy travel bags, which make them easier to transport and store.
If you’re skeptical of TENS units or unsure if whether or not one will work for you, you may want to consider choosing a manufacturer that offers a no-questions-asked guarantee. This will let you return your device if you find out that it doesn’t effectively relieve your pain.
Basic TENS units are equipped with a limited number of leads and can only output low, soothing pulses of electricity. Expect to pay around $20.
If you’re willing to pay $25, you can get a TENS unit that has a little more power. You’ll also find multi-lead TENS units in this price range. Multi-lead TENS units can treat multiple parts of the body at the same time.
The most expensive TENS units only cost a few dollars more than mid-range units. They’re slightly pricier because they’re bigger, usually more powerful and come with additional leads. Prices start at around $35.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What’s the difference between a TENS unit and an EMS device?
A: Simply put, a TENS unit blocks pain and an EMS device improves muscle strength. Some TENS units can output both TENS and EMS pulses.
Q: What are the differences between the different channel types?
A: TENS machines with two channels can stimulate up to four different body parts. Each channel connects to a lead and each lead can power two pads. Some TENS devices feature independent channel intensity control, which lets you apply different amperage to different channels. Fully isolated channels can do this too, but they can run separate programs as well.
Q: What kind of conditions are TENS units best suited for?
A: TENS units can treat nearly any type of chronic pain, provided that the source of the pain isn’t located on a sensitive body region. Hip pain, arthritis, knee pain, foot pain, hip pain and even labor pain can be alleviated with a TENS machine.
- Try moving your electrode pads around the area where you feel pain. Different pad distances can cause different sensations and varying levels of efficacy.
- Washing the area that you intend to treat before you apply your pads will help them last longer. The adhesive will wear out quickly if you expose it to oily skin.
- If you intend to use your TENS unit in bed, be sure to set a timer. That way, you won’t damage your skin if you fall asleep during your session.
- Never apply TENS to skin that is blistered or swollen. TENS units shouldn’t be used to treat throat, head or face pain, either.