- What are TENS Units and How Do They Work?
- The Benefits That TENS Units Offer
- The Best TENS Units in 2019 – Comparison Table
- The 19 Best TENS Units in 2019 – Detailed Reviews
- Making the Tough Choice – The Buying Guide for Finding the Best TENS Unit for You
- TENS Units vs. EMS Units – What’s the Difference?
- Tips and Tricks for Using Your TENS Unit
- TENS Unit FAQ
What are TENS Units and How Do They Work?
I’ll start by explaining the name since that seems to confuse most people. TENS is an acronym that stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. While that phrase does sound complex, it basically means shooting electricity into your nerve endings through your skin.
Well, it is a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it. TENS units usually have electrodes that are connected by wire to the main unit, which generates electricity and is used to control the intensity and type of stimulation that you’ll be receiving.
The electrodes are covered in conductive sticky pads that you can apply to your skin at the painful area – they are reusable, but have a limited number of uses.
The electricity will travel through these pads and through the areas of your skin that they are covering and stimulate the nerve endings in that area. So, how does this help with your pain?
Well, there are a few different competing theories about that. One of the more popular theories posits that the electric impulses to the nerve ending simply overload them. This makes them unable or less able to receive further electrical impulses, including those from your brain, thus making you feel less pain.
Another theory makes a claim that the stimulation your nerves receive prompts your brain to release more endorphin. This is a chemical known as a painkiller and antidepressant. It’s not all that dissimilar to how a massage affects your body.
Some theories posit that it’s a combination of both of these effects or maybe something else entirely. Whatever may be the case, TENS units have been proven to work, and the pain relief they offer can’t be attributed to the placebo effect.
They also work for a wide variety of conditions from bone cancer to arterial diseases and diabetic neuropathy. The effects are not only short term – they have long-term implications as well.
Due to this, TENS units are one of the best, clean alternatives to medication when it comes to managing pain. But, they can offer more than just that, and I’ll talk about that in just a minute.
The Benefits That TENS Units Offer
I know that the main benefits of TENS units are not always obvious and they can seem like a gimmick that doesn’t offer that much.
Those doubts are understandable – after all, how many ‘seen on TV’ products claim to offer similar things but end up being useless?
However, TENS units are different, and they offer quite a few proven benefits which is why there are a lot of physical therapist recommended TENS units around. Here are just some of the most important ones.
1. Easy Pain Relief
The most important benefit of a TENS unit is that it can provide you with pain relief that doesn’t rely on any sorts of drugs and is completely non-invasive.
Unlike medication, TENS units require no prescription, you can use them more often, you have a lesser chance of any side-effects, and they don’t cause addiction. If you find that TENS units help you, they’ll be a great alternative to medication.
Using a TENS unit also doesn’t hurt or leave any marks on your skin. It’s clean, safe and almost completely risk-free if you follow all the right safety
2. Portable and Discreet
While there are other machines that can help you manage your pain, they’re usually quite bulky even if they’re marketed as portable. The best ones, like massage chairs, are you can’t even move on your own, let alone take outside with you!
TENS units, on the other hand, are incredibly small – usually smaller than a smartphone – and the pads won’t even stick out of your clothes.
You can have them running anywhere you find yourself, and no one will even notice since most of them have a silent mode as well.
It’s great for those of you that need pain relief at work or even on a night out with friends. Having a TENS unit is invaluable in such cases.
3. Accessible and Affordable
One of the best things about TENS units, when compared to similar devices, is how accessible they are to the average consumer. They’re easy to use (for the most part), and you can do most things with a few clicks.
They also have a low starting price so you can get them without breaking your budget in half. This is a great boon since people who suffer from chronic pain have a low income, especially in developing countries.
How to Buy a TENS Unit Near Me?
So, you want a TENS unit and you want it right now, without waiting for long delivery times after buying it from Amazon or other online retailer. What can you do?
Well, these days you can just run a quick search for something like “Buy TENS unit near me” or “TENS unit shops near me” and browse through the results and find what you want without having to ask around.
If you want to find it even faster though, check out the map below.
As you can see, I’ve already done the work for you right here. This map has all the relevant shops near you and you can click on them to find out where the shop is located, when it’s open and which types of products they offer. You can have your TENS unit with you before the day’s end and it’s all simple and easy.
The Best TENS Units in 2019 – Comparison Table
If you’re not into reading more detailed reviews, here’s a quick comparison of all the best TENS units that you can find in 2019.
The 19 Best TENS Units in 2019 – Detailed Reviews
Roscoe Medical TENS 7000 2nd EditionTherapeutic-grade Relief in Your Pocket!
If you’re looking for a TENS unit that’s portable yet close to being therapeutic-grade, this is a good one to try out.
The settings are limited since there are only 5 modes and 8 intensity levels but it is fairly strong and using it is fairly easy. It can run continuously, and it is able to store up to 60 different operation records. The strength is also quite high.
It comes with a few good extras – the best of which is the hard carrying case. Despite that, the price is fairly affordable for everyone. It’s also quite sturdy and well-built, so it will last for a long time.
The batteries, however, will not. It uses 9-volt batteries which are non-rechargeable, and they burn out fast. You can get rechargeable batteries for it though, so it’s not a huge downside.
- Made out of solid and durable materials
- Easy to use and fairly customizable
- You can run it continuously, and it doesn’t turn itself off
- Comes with good extras
- The price is rather affordable
- It consumes batteries like nothing else
- The electrodes quickly lose their stickiness
- The cables are a bit short
FDA cleared OTC HealthmateForever YK15AB TENSAffordable and Versatile
Among the more affordable units on the market, this is certainly one of the most adjustable ones available.
With it you can use 8 pads at once on two different channels, allowing you to easily cover larger areas of your body and work on multiple areas at once. The pads are a bit on the smaller side, so you might want to replace them with larger ones.
The unit also boasts 20 different levels of intensity – though even the lower ones are quite strong. It also comes with 15 pre-programmed modes that are all described in the instruction manual.
The instructions are poorly written though, so you might have a bit of trouble using it. Also, for all its adjustability, the timer is not adjustable which is a larger oversight.
- It’s a highly adjustable unit
- Can deliver quite a lot of power
- Small and easy to carry around
- It can cover a huge area
- Comes at a highly affordable price
- A bit confusing and difficult to use
- The shut-off timer can’t be adjusted
- The pads are quite small
AUVON Rechargeable TENS Unit Adjusting Your Therapy Made Easy
Boasting 16 different modes, this initially seems like one of the most adjustable units around. The 20 different levels of intensity also don’t hurt when it comes to that impression.
All of that is packed into a relatively small unit that’s inconspicuous and simple to carry around with you. Using it is also quite simple, and all the different programs are clearly marked in the user interface.
While all the modes are a good addition, the unit lacks dual channel control which is a large hindrance if you want to treat two places on your body at once. The power is also a bit on the low side.
Sadly, the unit is also a bit flimsy, while costing more than other, comparable TENS units. The wires and inputs usually fail after a few months of use. It comes with a warranty, but it doesn’t cover such failings.
- Accessible and easy to use
- Highly adjustable with lots of modes
- Light and easy to carry around
- Comes with a few good extras
- No dual channel control
- NIt’s on the weaker side
- It’s not durably built
NURSAL TENS Unit Pint Powerhouse
This unit comes with a bit of a non-standard setup. It has two different channels, one that can attach to two different electrodes while the other can manage four, allowing you to use 6 electrodes at once.
You also get two extra large pads in the package, which is a great bonus, as is the nifty carrying bag. With it, this small unit is exceptionally portable.
Don’t worry about the power – it’s stronger than it looks and the batteries can last for quite a while, even on the highest setting. Recharging it is easy too since it works with a USB charger.
However, it is a bit on the pricey side, and there are some questionable things about it. The pads that come with it are not that good, and you should make sure you never drop it – it breaks incredibly easily.
- Charges quickly and can charge from a USB port
- More than strong enough
- Great battery life
- Comes bundled with some good extras
- Compact and easily portable
- It’s pricier than most other units
- The unit is too flimsy and breaks easily
- It comes with low-quality sticky pads
TechCare Massager Tens Unit Plus 24 Smart and Powerful
This unit looks like a smartphone, and it has a nifty touchscreen that’s easy to use, and the controls are well-labeled. This makes it fairly easy and straightforward to use, though it does have some kinks.
When you change modes, for example, you’re going to have to adjust the intensity on both channels from scratch.
The modes it has are fine, but there are only 6, not 24 as it’s indicated in some place – it’s just that every mode has 4 different ‘levels.’
The strength is great, and you probably won’t even use the higher intensity levels – there are 20 of them in total. Even on the higher levels, the battery will last for quite a while, and with the USB charger, it fills back up quickly too.
Overall, it’s a more than decent unit with a few flaws here and there.
- It’s exceptionally powerful
- The touchscreen makes it easy to use
- The battery seems to last for a while
- The pads that come with it are durable
- Adjusting intensity can be tedious when changing modes
- The timer has a minimum of 10 minutes and no constant mode
HealthmateForever HM8ML Tens UnitThe Best TENS Unit for Sciatica
This unit is an obvious upgrade from some of the previous models by the same company, and it’s an exceptionally easy to use. It has a few large buttons used for the controls, all clearly labeled and easy to press.
It comes with 8 different modes, and you can use 4 pads with it on two different channels, and it’s quite intense. Even though it has 20 intensity levels, you probably won’t need to use all of them. If you do, the battery will last for a long time even on the strongest setting.
The unit is durable too, and the pads that come with it seem to be of great quality since they don’t lose their stickiness quickly. However, they might be difficult to take off at first, and if you’re hairy, you’re going to have a bad time.
Besides that, there is also a clear discrepancy between the two channels when it comes to intensity. Even on the same levels, one is stronger than the other, so it’s difficult to use all the pads at once.
Still, this is a great unit and probably the best TENS unit for sciatica that you can get.
- Exceptionally long battery life
- Lots of different settings
- Fairly powerful
- Easy to use for anyone
- Durable and the electrodes stay stick for a long time
- The two channels feel different even on the same intensity
- It’s difficult to take the electrodes off
KEDSUM Rechargeable 16 Modes Tens UnitTons of Power in a Tiny Frame
This is a decent unit for a decent price with quite a bit of adjustability. You can use 4 different pads with it at the same time on two different channels. It’s quite strong despite how it looks, and you probably won’t need to use the extremely intense settings.
Adjusting it is simple, and there are a few clear buttons on the front to do it. There are no instructions, so it might take a bit of time to figure it out, but you’ll get it in the end.
While the manufacturer claims that the battery will last for 10 hours, it’s more like 4 or 5 in total. That will only get shorter as you continue using the unit and recharging it.
You get a USB charger with it along with a few other extras, including pads of different sizes. Sadly, the pads that come with it aren’t sticky enough, and you might need to replace them soon.
- Easy to use
- Strong for its size
- Comes with a lot of different pads
- The size is small
- The pads that come with it aren’t sticky
- Poor battery life
Ohuhu FDA Cleared Muscle Pain Tens Unit All the Options at Your Fingertips
Overall, this is quite a powerful and highly adjustable unit. It comes with 16 different modes, and they are all fairly easy to cycle through – the same goes for the 20 levels of intensity.
However you’ll probably struggle with it a bit at first – the instructions are poor, and you’ll need a microscope to even read them.
When it comes to power, the unit delivers on it and then some. For most people, higher intensity levels will be actively painful.
The unit itself also seems to be quite durable – even if you drop it, you won’t break it. Can’t say the same for the pads thought – they stop being sticky in a week or two. You can revitalize them, but they’ll still need to be replaced fairly soon.
You do get lots of pads in the package, a total of 12 in three different sizes, but that doesn’t help too much when they’re that bad.
- Tons of power
- Lots of adjustability
- Comes with extras pads of different sizes
- Durable construction
- The pads are poor and lose stickiness within weeks
- Poor instruction manual
MEDVIVE Rechargeable FDA Cleared Tens UnitThe Goliath in a David’s Body
This unit comes with a total of 8 pads that are all more than sticky enough and stay that way for quite a while. That’s a great relief since many units have low-quality pads, especially if they come with extras.
You can only use 4 pads at once on two different channels, but that’s more than enough. The strength is great, and the intensity is consistent between the two channels if they’re put on the same level.
While it is a highly adjustable unit with 16 modes, it can be difficult to make out what the modes do since you only have vague icons. The screen they’re displayed on will also start failing sooner rather than later, so watch out for that.
Overall, it’s a decently strong unit with some good options but a few large flaws.
- Strong as an ox
- Small and almost weightless
- The pads are highly sticky and long-lasting
- Highly adjustable
- The screen is not durable at all
- There are no good indications about what the modes do
Massage Therapy Concepts TENS Unit and EMS CombinationPain Relief and Muscle Stimulation in One
While this is a good TENS unit, it’s not just that – it also doubles as an EMS unit which is great if you have a need for both. It will save you some money.
The unit is fairly expensive thought, but it makes up for that in other areas, not just with the additional EMS functionality. It’s also good-looking with a smartphone-like design and a handy touchscreen that’s easy to use.
It also comes with a couple of great extras, including large and extra large sets of pads.
Both the TENS and the EMS unit function work well, with the TENS being particularly strong and having two different channels with 12 distinct modes.
Now, with that said, finding out what the settings do can be a difficult process. What’s not a difficult process is changing them by accident in your pocket – the touchscreen is easy to unlock by accident.
The battery also doesn’t seem to last too long, but it’s an intense unit, so that’s to be expected.
- Doubles as an EMS unit
- Comes with a lot of good extras
- Great power
- Highly adjustable
- Costs a lot of money
- Difficult to use at first
- Easy to accidentally change the settings on the touchscreen
Omron Max Power Relief TENS Unit (PM3032)Electrical Massage on the Go
This is an the most powerful TENS unit, and if you want a TENS machine that offers some massage-like action, then this is what you want. It comes with a ton of different modes as well, some based on certain massage techniques.
With it, you get a carry bag as well as a belt clip so carrying it around with you is easy. It’s small and light, so it fits in your pocket too.
For the most part, it’s easy to use, and everything is shown clearly on the screen.
If you’re using it outdoors though, the display might difficult to see since it isn’t backlit – a common but annoying oversight.
The other major problem comes in the form of the pads – they’re almost useless. After only a few uses, they’ll stop sticking to your skin, and you should replace them as soon as possible.
It does only have one channel with two pads as well, but it makes up for that with additional power.
- Powerful, massage-like action
- Has a ton of different modes
- Comes with a carry bag and belt clip
- Easy to use
- No backlight on the display
- The pads stop sticking after a few uses
- Only one channel with two pads
TruMedic TENS Electronic Pulse Unit Model # PL-009Strength that Anyone Can Afford
If you’re looking for a fairly strong TENS unit that’ fairly inexpensive, this is not a bad choice overall. It’s durable, stronger than most, comes with some extra pads as well and doesn’t waste batteries.
It’s also quite adjustable and has a ton of different modes and settings that you can use to adjust the therapy to your liking.
Sadly, this unit is a bit difficult to use for a few reasons. For starters, the screen is not backlit so it might be difficult to see. The buttons for adjusting it are all over the place, and the intensity dials can easily be turned by accident.
Besides that, it also can’t run for more than 15 minutes, meaning that you will have to reset it a lot and you can’t have it running continuously.
- Easy to afford for anyone
- Delivers on the power front
- The batteries can last for a long time
- You get some extra pads with it
- Has a lot of different adjustments
- The electrodes can shock you if you don’t place the pad just right
- Can’t run for more than 15 minutes at once
- Difficult to adjust properly
CUH Rechargeable TENS Unit Versatility at the Forefront
The first thing you’ll notice about this unit is the high adjustability with a total of 16 modes, 20 intensity levels and 6 possible electrodes with 2 different channels. The controls are easy to use as well, and the instruction manual explains everything nicely.
While it is highly adjustable, it lacks a bit in terms of power, and if you need it to deal with more intense pain, it’s not for you.
There are a few good extras that come with it including some larger pads and a good-looking, functional travel case.
Now, there’s a good reason it comes with a carrying case – it’s more fragile than most, and it’s easy to break.
What it doesn’t come with is an A/C adapter. It does come with a USB cord, and you can use a phone charger with it, but it’s not the best solution. The batteries last for quite a while, but you will need to recharge it at some point.
- Highly adjustable with a lot of modes
- Comes with a travel case and lots of electrodes
- Easy to use with good instructions
- Long battery life
- It’s too fragile
- Lacks the A/C adapter that’s supposed to be included
- Not powerful enough
Vive Stim Machine TENS UnitThe Best Relief for Intense Pain
For the price, this is quite a decent TENS unit. It doesn’t have too many modes – only 8 –, but they’re more than enough, and the 20 available intensity settings are enough. Even the lowest setting is quite strong, so it’s great if you suffer intense pains and want to deal with them.
While it shouldn’t be too difficult to use, figuring it out takes some work since the instructions are fairly useless. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not too complicated.
The pads that come with it are not sticky enough either, so you’ll probably have to replace them soon.
Other than that, it’s a decent, strong budget unit with a few good options here and there. It’s definitely worth a buy if you’re dealing with stronger pain.
- It’s stronger than most
- The pads are incredibly sticky
- Relatively inexpensive
- The instructions are poor
- The pads aren’t sticky enough
Santamedical Electronic Tens UnitEasy to Use and Easy to Afford
For the price, this unit is more than decent. You’ll definitely feel it when you’re using it, and it comes with a few good pre-programmed modes.
Using it is easy, and the instruction manual describes everything you need to know about it in detail. Overall, it’s a good unit – but there are some problems.
The unit has a default timer of 15 minutes, after which it shuts off – but it doesn’t, not for real. It stops the therapy, but it keeps using the battery until you turn the power dials to off. It’s annoying, to say the least and timer can’t be changed or turned off.
It’s also fairly large, so carrying it in your pocket is not an option for most people.
Still, I’d say it’s more than worth the price if you can deal with those annoyances.
- Using it is fairly easy
- Comes with good pre-programmed modes
- Affordable price point
- Strong and reliable
- Automatic shut-off after 15 minutes
- Larger than most units and doesn’t fit in pockets
Healthmate Forever HM8GL Tens UnitSmall and Sweet
This is a decent little unit, and its main benefit is the light weight and small size. Carrying it around with you is quite easy and requires no effort.
The intensity of the stimulation is adequate here – not too strong or too weak, just somewhere in the middle. You can adjust it well, and it comes with 8 different modes that are all distinct from each other.
It’s rechargeable with a USB cord, and the batteries last for quite a long while. You can keep it running for almost the whole day without them being spent.
However, it does have a few issues – the main one is that the cords are a bit short. It might be difficult to carry it if you want to place the electrodes in a spot that’s far from your pockets.
Using it why lying down is also not an option since any pressure to the electrodes stops them from working.
- Fairly light and small
- Amazing battery life
- Has a lot of different options
- Simple and effective
- Putting pressure on the pad causes them to stop working
- The cords are a bit too short
AccuMed Rechargeable Tens Unit AP212 Flexibility and Strength Combined
This unit features 4 electrodes on two different channels, color-coded for your convenience, so you never confuse them. It comes with a total of 16 modes that you can cycle through with ease.
Overall, it’s easy to use, and the large, backlight LCD screen with clear markings helps with that.
The unit is fairly small and easy to carry around, but it’s also powerful at the same time, more than you might expect. Even on the lowest settings, you’ll probably feel it.
However, you won’t be able to feel it all the time since there is no continuous mode – it will be a bit stop-and-start if you want a longer therapy. 60 minutes is the longest it can go.
Besides that, it’s also a bit on the pricier side, but it’s a quality machine, so it’s worth it.
- Flexible and highly adjustable
- Easy to use with a good screen
- Portable due to being small and light
- Stronger than it might look
- Durable construction
- Doesn’t come with a continuous mode
- It’s a bit pricey
Easy@Home TENS Unit #EHE009Strength and Durability for a Bargain Price
For use at home, this is quite a good unit that is fairly customizable and packs a good punch while also being on the cheap side. Using it is rather simple, and the instructions are more than clear enough.
The pads that come with it are durable and tend to last for a long time as does the unit itself. Even if you happen to drop it, no harm will come to it.
It’s intense too, and you won’t be disappointed if you’re struggling with strong chronic pains – it works on them.
However, you won’t’ be able to carry it with you anywhere you go since it’s quite large and certainly won’t fit in a regular-sized pocket.
Also, it goes through batteries rather quickly so it is more expensive in the long run than some other, rechargeable units will be.
- The pads can be reused dozens of times
- Fairly easy to use
- More than strong enough
- Sturdy but inexpensive
- A bit on the larger side
- It goes through batteries quickly
Pure Enrichment PurePulse The Strongman with a Small Frame
For the price, this is quite a sturdy and strong unit. It’s so strong that some people have reported that it hurts them at higher settings, so you should watch out.
Despite the power it has, it doesn’t use too much battery power, and you won’t have to worry about buying new ones too much.
The size is a bit large but the unit is lightweight, and it’s not too difficult to carry. Even if you drop it, it will still work, and it’s well-built.
There are a few different modes, easy to cycle through and 10 intensity settings. The intensity is a bit too easy to change by accident so watch out when you’re placing it in your pocket.
You also can’t get therapies longer than 15 minutes – that duration is set, and you can’t change.
What you can and will need to change are the pads – they’re almost useless. But, that’s what you get for the price –a mix of good and bad.
- Lightweight and powerful at the same time
- A decent amount of adjustability
- Doesn’t use too much battery power
- The pads quickly lose their stickiness
- It can only work for 15 minutes at a time
- Too easy to change the intensity by accident
Making the Tough Choice – The Buying Guide for Finding the Best TENS Unit for You
I know that choosing a TENS unit can be difficult, especially if you’ve never bought anything similar before.
That’s why I’ll give you a few pointers that you can follow to make sure you get the best one for you.
1Adjust it to Your Liking
When you struggle with chronic pain, not every day is the same. On some days you might feel almost fine, while on others it might be so intense that you can’t even think straight. It gets even worse when the pain is present in more than one place.
Because of that, you’ll have to switch up the type of therapy you’re using from day to day. That’s why it’s important to find a TENS unit that you can adjust to your liking so you can always get the therapy you need.
Of course, I don’t think you need to get expensive, professional units that cost a few thousand dollars – for home use, something less complex will do.
I’ll break it down into a few different categories for you:
Number of Electrodes
The number of electrodes that a TENS unit has is important because more electrodes allow you to cover a larger area.
If you have chronic back problems, you’ll need a unit with at least 8 electrodes in order to cover such a large area.
Most TENS units either use one or two channels, while some even use four.
If you have a one-channel unit the intensity levels of all the electrodes are adjusted with one dial.
If you have two channels, half of the electrodes can work on one intensity level while the other half can work on another, at the same time. This allows you to treat two different areas at the same time.
With quad-channel units, you can even treat 4 different areas of your body at the same time, or treat multiple people at the same time.
Having more channels is almost always better, though it can make the unit a bit more complicated. Most physical therapist recommended TENS units will have multiple channels.
More intensity levels allow for better fine-tuning of the therapy you’re receiving. Just keep in mind that more intensity levels are not the same as more power – a unit with just 2 intensity levels can be stronger than one with 25, it’s just less adjustable.
Most TENS units have a wide variety of pre-programmed modes available. These modes can change the length of each electrical pulse, the pauses between pulses and so on.
Some of these programmers are made for dealing with certain types of pain, and they can be extremely beneficial.
The timers in TENS units are used to determine the length of your therapy, and some even have an auto-shutdown feature in case something bad happens. Most of them will let you set the length somewhere between 5 and 60 minutes, but there are some units that go beyond that.
The more adjustability a unit has, the easier it is to make it conform to your exact needs and help you get rid of the pain. That’s why I’d say this is what you need to consider before you think about anything else.
2Battery Powered vs. Rechargeable
Most TENS units out there are powered by batteries and the main choice comes down to this – do you get one powered by a rechargeable battery or one where you need to replace the batteries?
The difference might seem minute at first, but it’s more important than you might realize, especially when it comes to portability.
Sure, both types are usually something that you can carry around with you, but a rechargeable unit will run out of power much faster and need to be recharged while a battery-powered unit can last for days or even more if you have spare batteries on hand.
However, rechargeable units will cost you less in the long run, and they can usually be more powerful than TENS units powered by regular batteries. They’re also larger and less portable, but that’s not a bad tradeoff.
Corded TENS units also exist, but they’re rather rare and not portable at all. They’re mostly a thing of the past, as far as home use goes, and are mostly used by professionals. They’re more complex, expensive and the most powerful TENS units around.
There’s no objectively right or wrong choice here – you just need to figure out what suits you better based on the pros and cons of each type.
3Ease of Use
TENS units can be quite complex machines despite their deceptively simple appearance. However, not everyone can easily adjust to all the different options, and if the interface is not user-friendly, it can be even worse.
Older people are among those that need TENS units the most, but they’re also not so keen on accepting new technology. They can also have poor vision, shaky hands and so on.
Because of that, it’s important to find a TENS unit that has a simple and clean user interface, with all options easily accessible and all parameters easily readable.
Now, ‘easy to use’ is not the same as ‘simple’ – there’s a difference. Complex TENS units can be easy to use if their basic options and settings are easily accessible, clearly marked and signposted. On the other hand, even a simple unit can be exceedingly difficult to use if the layout of the unit is confusing.
For example – a large, clear button on the front of the unit for setting intensity is easy to use, but a small unmarked dial on the back of it can be more difficult to use, even if the settings are identical.
Touchscreens can make a unit easier to use for some
Older people who need large buttons to press, for example – but they can also make it more difficult to use if you need to blindly change the settings without taking the unit out of your pocket.
Getting a wireless TENS unit is also an option – meaning that the electrodes aren’t connected to the main unit by wires, making them easier to use on the go. However, a wireless TENS unit will usually be less powerful.
It all depends on who the unit is for and how you want to use it – but don’t get a simple unit that lacks the necessary settings thinking that makes it easy to use. Find one that’s both accessible and feature-rich – you don’t have to compromise.
4The Right Size
While most TENS units seem relatively small, their size is still an important thing to consider. You can put some units in the pocket of your jeans and use them on the go, while others simply won’t fit – and the difference can be only a few inches.
However, a unit being larger is not necessarily a bad thing if you intend to use it mostly at home. Some of the upsides that larger units have are larger screens and buttons that are easier to see and press. For older or disabled people, this is incredibly useful, much more than the unit being portable.
Again, you can’t say any of the options are objectively bad; you just need to find the size that’s right for your needs.
5What Else Does it Offer?
These days, TENS units often offer more than just their core functionality. While that core functionality is the most important thing about them, having a few extras never hurt anyone.
The most common piece of extra functionality is a program that allows them to perform the function of an EMS unit. If you need an EMS unit, this can save you a ton of money. I’ll talk a bit more about what EMS units are and what they’re used for in a bit, so stay tuned for that.
Other common extras that might come with a TENS unit are extra sticky pads, extra batteries, water-based gels, carrying cases or straps and more. These are all useful though you can do without them and buy them all separately.
Overall, if a good unit has some great extras you should buy it over a similar unit without them – but never buy a bad unit just because of the extras, it’s not a wise move.
TENS Units vs. EMS Units – What’s the Difference?
Since EMS functionality is often included in TENS units, it’s easy to confuse the two and think that they’re just different names for the same thing, or that they do relatively similar things.
This is quite far from the truth.
As the name EMS – Electric Muscle Stimulation – implies, EMS units use electrical current to shock and contract your muscles, instead of applying the stimulation to your nerves, like the TENS unit does.
Their purpose is also different. While TENS units are primarily used for pain relief, EMS units are used to stimulate muscle tissue for a wide variety of purposes. Lightly shocking and stimulating your muscles and forcing them to contract can be useful for relieving sore muscles from pain after exercising or for the reduction of swelling after sports injuries.
However, a lot of athletes also use it for strengthening their muscles further by keeping them engaged and active even while they’re not actively training. This can lead to muscle injury from overwork, so be careful if you’re doing that. Using EMS units for warm-up before training is much safer.
Of course, EMS also has other therapeutic uses, the most important of which is keeping the muscles in good shape during long hospital stays or periods of inactivity after injuries.
By constantly stimulating the muscles you’re avoiding muscle atrophy and reducing the rehabilitation process necessary to get them back to 100%. Moreover, EMS can also be used during the rehabilitation process and as a supplement to physical therapy to speed up the recovery.
It’s not always safe to use EMS though. For example, you shouldn’t use it in periods where you’re supposed to avoid physical strain. If you have swelling on a certain part of the body after surgery, using an EMS unit on that area can cause serious harm.
You also shouldn’t use EMS units to relieve nerve pain – that’s what TENS units are for. At best, an EMS unit will do nothing to help you, but it could also make the pain worse by over-stimulating the muscles in the area.
So, you see, EMS units have quite a different function from TENS units, even though they’re often combined into one device. Hopefully, now you won’t confuse one for the other, and you’ll be able to get exactly what you want.
Tips and Tricks for Using Your TENS Unit
Using a TENS unit can seem deceptively simple, but there are a few things you should know before using it – and after.
Here’s how to properly use your TENS unit:
- Clean your skin before applying the electrode pads and make sure it’s dry. Don’t apply creams or gels to it. You can clean your skin with rubbing alcohol or water and soap.
- Place the electrodes on your skin and make sure they’re firmly stuck to it.
- Plug the electrode wires into the TENS unit.
- Always start at the lowest intensity level and go up from there until you feel comfortable.
- When you’re done using your TENS unit, turn it off, then unplug the electrodes from it and take them off your skin.
- Make sure the unit has enough charge before using it and always deplete it fully before charging it again to extend the battery life.
Buying additional TENS pads can be costly – it easily starts exceeding the cost of the entire unit. However, if you keep your pads in good shape, you can just keep reusing them.
If you want to keep them as good as new, follow these tips:
- When not in use, keep the pads in their original packaging, so they stay moist.
- Before each use, apply a bit of water to the pads.
- Directly after using them, gently clean the pads using a damp rag. You can also brush them gently with a toothbrush to remove more persistent dirt and expose the sticky gel.
- Cool the pads off in the fridge after every use – a few hours is more than enough.
- When the pads start losing stickiness, apply some electrode gel on them and rub it in gently – this will help restore their adhesive properties.
Placing the electrodes the right way to get the effect you want can be an art in and unto itself. I’ll give you a couple of tips on how to do that right:
- Make sure there’s always at least 1 inch between the electrode pads.
- Don’t place them on sensitive areas, exposed sores, varicose veins, numb areas or on your chest and upper back at the same time.
- Avoid putting the pads directly on your joints since that can affect how the pad adheres to your skin and lower the effectiveness of the treatment. In this case, place the pads below and above the painful joint.
- If you can’t cover the entire painful area – place one pad at one end of the painful area and a second pad at the opposite end.
That’s about it, and if you follow these tips, you should have a better experience when using your TENS unit.
TENS Unit FAQ
The Final Word
I’ve told you all that I could about TENS units – or at least everything I could fit in this article. There’s just one more thing left to do, and I think you all know what it is.
So, which TENS unit is the best one? Well, in my opinion, it has to be AccuMed Rechargeable Tens Unit AP212 since it’s got almost everything I want in a TENS unit, including separate channels, lots of adjustments and strength, with only a few minor downsides.
Tell me what you think down in the comments and I hope to see you again soon!
- Desantana JM, Walsh DM, Vance C, Rakel BA, Sluka KA. (2008) Effectiveness of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Treatment of Hyperalgesia and Pain [Online]Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746624/
- Vance C.G., Dailey D.L., Rakel B.A., Sluka K.A. (2014) Using TENS for pain control: the state of the evidence [Online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4186747/
- Besnier F, Sénard JM, Grémeaux V, Riédel M, Garrigues D, Guiraud T, Labrunée M.(2017) The efficacy of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation on the improvement of walking distance in patients with peripheral arterial disease with intermittent claudication: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial: the TENS-PAD study. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5553808/
- What is TENS Therapy? [Online] Available from: https://www.biocenter24.com/What-is-TENS-Therapy
- Rakel B, Frantz R (2003) Effectiveness of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation on postoperative pain with movement [Online] Available from: https://www.jpain.org/article/S1526-5900(03)00780-6/fulltext
- Tamsyn S, Christine S (2018) Five-Year Follow-up of a Longitudinal Cohort Study of the Effectiveness of Functional Electrical Stimulation for People with Multiple Sclerosis [Online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6200121/
- Electrotherapy.org (2018) Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) [Online] Available from: http://www.electrotherapy.org/modality/transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens
- Michael IB, Mark IJ, Sarah RB, Helen R (2009) Feasibility Study of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for Cancer Bone Pain [Online] Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/38032982_Feasibility_Study_of_Transcutaneous_Electrical_Nerve_Stimulation_TENS_for_Cancer_Bone_Pain
- Robert P; Michael S; Abhishek SC; Carl BP; Steven FH; Michael AM (2013) Clinical and Economic Impact of TENS in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain: Analysis of a Nationwide Database [Online] Available from: https://www.djoglobal.com/sites/default/files/media/TENSStudyOrthopedics_12-2013%5B1%5D.pdf
- Felicia Y (2015) Introduction to Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) [Online] Available from: https://cewm.med.ucla.edu/blog/introduction-to-transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens-2/
- Tashani O, Johnson MI (2009) Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) a possible aid for pain relief in developing countries? [Online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3066716/
- Physiopedia (2017) Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) [Online] Available from: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Transcutaneous_Electrical_Nerve_Stimulation_(TENS)
- ACPWH (2007) ACPWH guidance on the safe use of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for musculosketal pain during pregnancy [Online] Available from: https://www.oaa-anaes.ac.uk/assets/_managed/editor/File/PDF/info_for_mothers/TENS%20Statement%20JUNE%2007%20ACPWH%20Final.pdf
- Kenneth S (2010) The Use of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for the Treatment of Painful Diabetic Neuropathy [Online] Available from: http://www.sensusrx.com/pdf/Use%20of%20Transcutaneous%20Electrical%20Nerve%20Stimulation%20in%20PDN%20PN2203822%20Rev%20C.pdf
- Nova Scotia Health Authority (2017) Using TENS for Pain, Patient & Family Guide [Online] Available from: http://www.nshealth.ca/sites/nshealth.ca/files/patientinformation/0727.pdf