5 of The Best TENS Units Reviewed (2021)

If you have looked into solutions for pain management, then chances are you have heard of a TENS unit. If you have not heard of it, its full name is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation unit. Sounds pretty cool, but what exactly is it?

TENS units use electrical signals to manage the pain in your body. The signals are covered through patches, which sit on your skin, passing electricity to the nerves below. Most units are portable, allowing you to bring pain relief wherever you go.

If you think that a TENS unit is right for you, please consult your doctor before using one. You may find one of these humble units to be the solution to your pain problems, including (but not limited to) muscles spasms, back pain, neck and shoulder pain, period pain, forearm pain, migraines, and sports injuries. It can also be used for pain relief during childbirth. (1)

Let's take a look the 5 best TENS units and how they can help you manage your pain.

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How Does a TENS Unit Work?

TENS units send electronic pulses into your nerves. Do not worry; the pulses are very small in size. You will not be electrocuted.

Most devices come with patches which are attached to the skin. These patches have electrodes which pass on the current to your nerves. The device will provide a tingling sensation, which feels similar to a massage.

The electronic pulses reduce the pain signals to the spinal cord and brain, which may help relieve pain and relax muscles.  It may also help to stimulate the production of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers.

It takes a little getting used to at first. When used as per the manufacturer’s instructions, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation can provide safe and drug-free pain relief.

What Should I look for When Buying a TENS unit?

Before you purchase a TENS unit, it is worth doing a little research. Without this information, you cannot tell if a TENS unit will be right for you. Once you know what a TENS unit does, you will be able to understand how it can begin to impact your life. 

Ease of Use

Some TENS machines are easier to use than others? How intuitive are the controls? Can they be mistakenly adjusted when in use? Do you prefer buttons, knobs, or a touchscreen? Does it use batteries that need to be replaced or are they rechargeable?

The Display

Does the TENS unit have a display? Is it too big or too small? Is the screen clear and readable? Is it backlit? Are the controls labelled clearly?

Accessories

Check what comes with your TENS unit. Does it come with spare electrodes? Spare batteries? Rechargeable batteries? Gels? A case?  You may need to purchase some TENS unit accessories.

Number of Channels

If possible, you want a device with more than one channel.  This allows you to treat different parts of the body at the same time.

receiving TENS treatment on knee

Customizable

You want a TENS device that will give you the treatment you need.  Look for ones that have various options for intensity levels and massage modes.

Size/Portability

If you plan on using your device, outside your home, choose one that is portable.  Luckily, most of the best TENS units are small, but you can also find some that are wireless.

Price

The price of TENS machines will vary.  Figure out your budget and then look at the best options within that range.

The Top TENS Units

This table summarizes the best TENS units for home use.  Below the table, you can find detailed reviews for each device.

Brand

Key Features


TENS 7000

  • Powerful - 50 volts of electricity
  • Easy to use
  • Adjustable pulse width

iReliev

  • Combination of TENS and EMS
  • 14 preset modes
  • Portable and discreet
  • Batteries can be recharged

Omron

  • 5 massage modes
  • 3 pain modes and 5 intensity levels
  • Fits in your pocket
  • Includes Omron's Long Life Pads

Massage Therapy Concepts

  • Combination of TENS and EMS
  • Dual channel with 12 preset modes
  • LED display screen

NueMedics

  • 2 separate channels so you can focus on 2 areas at the same time.
  • Customizable
  • Rechargeble battery
  • Small
  • User- friendly

1. TENS 7000 2nd Edition

Simply put, the TENS 7000™ is the most powerful TENS unit on the market. If you are looking for a machine which can put out 50 volts of electricity, then this is the one for you. This unit is an upgrade to the TENS 3000 unit, giving more power and features for a little more money.

One of the things we like about this unit was how easy it was to use. The manual has detailed, yet simple, instructions, making this TENS unit a joy to use. 

They have really outdone themselves with this unit, adding 10 mA to the output when compared to previous models. We could talk all day about the improvements, but a few are worth pointing out. The digital processor has been upgraded. You gain more accuracy, while the unit gains durability. Combine this with the amplitude knobs, and you get an intuitive and friendly interactivity. 

The TENS 7000™ 2nd Edition sets itself apart from many other units on the market by allowing you the freedom to adjust the pulse width. When pain is a factor in your life, the more control you have over it, the better.

Click here to check the price and read more reviews.

Things That Customers Like

  • This unit outputs a lot of volts, but the amp output is also high; up to 100 mA. Power at low cost.
  • The unit is very adjustable. There are eight levels of intensity.
  • Spend the same money on another device, and you will probably not get a case to go with it. With the TENS 7000, you will.
  • The unit is portable, but the power and durability are not compromised.
  • The instruction manual sets the bar for all other instruction manuals. The controls are intuitive, but if you are having any problems, you will find the answer in the manual.

Things That Customers Don't Like

  • The TENS unit does not have rechargeable functionality.
  • You can often find replacement pads which are better than the ones the unit ships with.

2. iReliev PlayMakar TENS + EMS Wireless Unit

Another portable TENS machine is the PlayMakar, made by iReliev. This unit offers Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) to hit pain with a combination of TENS and EMS, alleviating pain and conditioning muscles simultaneously. It's wireless so it's convenient to use this on the go.

One of the pros of the PlayMakar, in addition to the amazing pain relief, is the fact that large pads do the same work as two pads on a traditional TENS device. It's faster to get started with the treatment because you only need half the number of pads.  The wireless pod settings can be completely isolated or operated in sync with one another.

The unit does not have as much user control as rival models, but it does feature 14 preset modes and 80mA medical-grade output strength, which have been finely tuned to aid you in living a more comfortable life.

This TENS unit will fit under your shirt without any wires sticking out. You could be at home, in the office, or even in the car and no one would know that you were wearing it. Office workers who are sitting at their desk all day or athletes who have used themselves too hard will both benefit from the effects of this wireless TENS unit.

It has a rechargeable battery.  The remote will last 5-10 hours and the pods 3-5 hours before it needs to be charged. Treatment times can be adjusted in 5-minute increments for up to 60 minutes per session.

Click here to check price and read more reviews.

Things That Customers Like

  • The unit features preprogrammed modes
  • The device is intuitive and easy to use.
  • The wireless feature allows you to wear this anywhere.
  • Pads for this device do the work of two for a traditional TENS machine
  • Features a TENS and EMS combination.

Things That Customers Don't Like

  • Wireless makes it more convenient to use, but also more expensive
  • The pads are good quality, but they only last for 20-30 uses.

3. Omron electroTHERAPY Pain Relief Device PM3030

Another great unit for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. The Omron electroTHERAPY Pain Relief Device PM3030 is not only affordable, but it has been used by people suffering from pain for decades. It is also manufactured by a leading name in the healthcare world, Omron. 

When you think about a portable device, you think of one which you carry around with you. This mini TENS unit fits snugly in your pocket. It only comes with two pads which means that it focuses on a smaller area at one time, but the pads are large, and they last for a long time. 

This FDA approved unit comes with multiple preset programs, and one of the neater features is the self-shut-off. Is pain stopping you from sleeping? This device could put an end to that, and you do not want to have to set an alarm to wake up and turn it off. Overuse of TENS units can be a problem. With this device, it never will. 

Click here to check price and read more reviews.

Things That Customers Like

  • Has a simpler control interface than many units on the market.
  • It fits in your pocket. You really can take it anywhere.
  • Is great for occasional and more regular use.
  • The ergonomic design makes you want to carry it around with you at all times.
  • Very affordable.

Things That Customers Don't Like

  • Does not feature as much power as some units.
  • The self-shut off is great, but if you want to go longer, you have to restart a program.
  • There are fewer modes than other devices.

4. Massage Therapy EMS and TENS Combination Device

The Massage Therapy Concepts makes a popular device which features a combination of TENS and EMS. The TENS is great for pain relief and blood circulation. The EMS is great for improving the strength of your muscles. The two together mean that your overall health will be improved beyond what you thought possible. 

This dual channel device has 12 preset modes with 20 intensity settings, giving you control of your own treatment. The 60 minute adjustable timer allows you to choose the length of your session.

Functionality usually comes at a price, but in this case, the manufacturers have managed to contain everything in one small unit, which also has a large LED display screen. The screen gives you even more control and information when using the device.

Click here to check the price and read more reviews.

Things That Customers Like

  • This unit offers TENS and EMS.
  • Numerous modes mean that you will find something which is right for you.
  • The unit features so many levels of control that no amount of pain is safe from this wonderful unit.
  • The unit is one of the most user-friendly on the market.

Things That Customers Don't Like

  • While the LCD screen is backlit, the timer that helps to save battery doesn't keep it lit for very long.

5. NueMedics TENS Unit Pulse Massager

This TENS unit is great for pain management, but it may surprise you to know that it is also a PMS (Powered Muscle Stimulator).  It can help firm up your muscles and build their strength while blocking the pain signals to your brain and increasing natural endorphins. 

The NueMedics TENS unit has 24 pre-programmed massage modes to simulate most popular massages.   It has a variety of electrical impulses which utilize some of the techniques of Shiatsu, deep tissue massage, cupping, tapping, and acupuncture. Users of this device range from those suffering from back pain and sore joints to bodybuilders.

The device has two separate channels which can be customized individually.   The A-B output allows you to have two different messages with different strengths at the same time.

This TENS unit has an LCD screen which is back-lit, allowing you to see exactly the program you are working through without the need for a light. It has a powerful built-in rechargeable lithium battery that offers up to 20 hours of continuous Use!  It can be connected to wall charger or computer USB port when you need to charge it.

In addition to the controller, you get 10 electrode pads, 2 electrode cables, a USB cable, a charger, a user’s manual, a pad holder, and a protective case.

Click here to check the price and read more reviews.

Things That Customers Like

  • As it comes with two separate channels, you can focus on two separate areas at the same time.
  • Extremely adjustable. From the program to the time, everything is at your fingertips.
  • Once charged, the TENS unit will last very well before needing charged again.
  • Very user-friendly.

Things That Customers Don't Like

  • Speed is not adjustable.

What is the Best TENS Unit?

When choosing a TENS unit, your chosen device will depend a lot on the pain you are experiencing. You will also need to factor in the location of the pain, the severity, and alternative treatments. Most units are reasonably priced, and most are small. If you cannot decide for yourself, then here are our recommendations.

Best overall TENS unit

NueMedics TENS Pulse Massager

The NueMedics TENS unit also offers PMS. The dual channel allows you to treat two areas at once, plus it has a plethora of massage modes and a long-lasting battery.  It's a powerful piece of kit in a small device. 

Best TENS unit for the money

TENS 7000 unit

The TENS 7000 unit is one of the best on the market. If you are looking for sheer power, then you will not find anything close at this price point. For most, if not all, pain, this device will have you covered. If you want something which works but does not break the bank, then this is the device for you. 

TENS Machine FAQs

If you haven't used a TENS machine before, don't fret.  It's normal to have some questions.  You will learn how to operate one quickly.

What Types of Pain can a TENS Units Treat?

  • Arthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Feet-Soles, Arches
  • Joint pain
  • Knee pain
  • Hip pain
  • Lower Back Pain
  • Lumbar Back Pain
  • Menstrual Pain
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Muscle Pain
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Menstrual Pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Peripheral Nerves
  • Phantom Limb Pain
  • Post-Operative Pain
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Sciatic pain
  • Shingles
  • Shoulders
  • Strains and Sprains
  • Sports Injuries
  • Tendonitis
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Tension Headaches
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Whiplash

How Long Can You use a TENS unit for?

It is recommended that you do not use a TENS unit for more than thirty minutes at a time. There is no real risk to your health, that has been found, other than skin irritation.

If you feel irritated when using a pad, you should give your skin a break every twenty minutes, or look into pads which are better for sensitive skin. The best answer that we can give, with regards to overuse, is to use it as much as feels comfortable. 

How Often Can You Use a TENS Unit?

As we discussed, there is no real threat to using a TENS unit for a prolonged period. This means that there is no real threat to using a TENS unit multiple times throughout your day. A TENS unit can be used as many times as you deem necessary.

TENS units are designed to provide immediate pain relief to the user. If you have pain, then it is a good time to use the device. TENS units also release your endorphins, naturally killing the pain in your body. The way we see it, there are benefits to using it as much as you want to.

Are TENS units safe?

As we mentioned already, you should always consult your doctor before using any form of treatment. There are some situations where a TENS unit may be unsafe to use:

  • If you are fitted with any pacemaker, then it would not be appropriate to use one.
  • If you are pregnant, or believe that you may be pregnant it is important that you speak with your doctor before using one.
  • If you have epilepsy or a heart issue.
  • If you have a rash, wound, or sore skin, you should not use the device on that area.
  • If any skin condition develops while using the device, you should stop use immediately, and consult your doctor.  (Note: If you have sensitive skin you could use these pads that are latex-free and non-irritating.)

TENS vs EMS: What is the difference?

TENS and EMS machines have different purposes:

  • TENS stimulates your nerves, keeping pain signals from reaching your brain.
  • EMS contracts your muscles, strengthening them.

Is a TENS and EMS combination unit worth it?

Yes as long as it is in line with your budget and you want to relieve pain and strengthen muscles.  You get the benefits of two treatments from one machine.  The TENS and EMS combination devices tend to be a little higher in price but do offer great versatility.  The TENS function to relieves back pain and the EMS settings help strengthen their muscles.

RELATED: The Best TENS Units for Cellulite

How do I know where to place the pads?

Pad placement for the TENS unit is key.  In general, you need to put the pads where you feel the pain, but there may be additional areas where you can also use the TENS unit.  We recommend discussing the position of the pads with your doctor as it will be different for each individual.

Never place the pads by your eyes, across a cardiac pacemaker, on the front of your neck, on an open wound, over a malignant tumor, over the spinal column, internally, or on an infected area.

RELATED: How to Use a TENS Unit for Migraine Pain Relief

Does a TENS unit relax muscles?

A TENS unit will indirectly relax your muscles.  It treats the pain which may be causing your muscles to be tense.  As the pain decreases, you will notice that your muscles feel more relaxed.

tens treatment on foot

7 Reasons to Buy a Tens Machine

If you're on the fence about whether or not you should buy a TENS unit.  Consider these reasons:

1. Pain Relief
Muscle pain can be relieved with electrical impulses. Anywhere there is access to a muscle, like the back, arms, or legs, a TENS unit can be used. So, how does this work?

Well, the body reacts to the impulses to release endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkiller. All you are doing is prompting your body to send these painkillers out. The best part? There are no nasty side effects.

RELATED: How to Use a TENS Unit for Tennis Elbow

2. Nerve Retraining
If your body suffers nerve damage, those nerves can become damaged, leading to pain and loss of movement. The nerves become unable to send the needed signals to your brain to request endorphins. TENS units can help to retrain nerves through electrical stimulation, leaving them working as they should.

3. Massage
If the intensity of the unit is high enough, the TENS unit can provide massage to the muscles below (some units are specifically built to do this through EMS). What could be better than relieving pain and retraining nerves while receiving a relaxing massage?

4. Ease of Use
When you buy a TENS unit, you are essentially investing in a medical tool. One which will change your life. One of the greatest things about one of these units is how easy they are to use. Press a few buttons and let the machine do the rest.

5. Reduced Inflammation
If muscles are inflamed, the inflammation will no doubt be accompanied by pain and discomfort. A TENS unit can greatly reduce inflammation.

6. Affordable Treatment 
A TENS unit is an investment, but as investments go, it is an affordable one. If you are managing pain with medication or visits to a medical professional, your bills will be increasing and increasing. A one-time investment in a TENS unit can give you the same relief at a fraction of the cost.

7. Quick Rehabilitation
When you suffer from pain, the simplest tasks can become daunting and often impossible. You want the quickest and safest recovery possible. A TENS unit can be used whenever and wherever. No need to schedule appointments and wait a week between them. A TENS unit may be the best purchase you ever make.

TENS infographic

First published on December 6th, 2017
Last updated on January 2, 2021

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Elena Curtis
 

Elena graduated from the Chicago School of Massage Therapy Clinic, and since her graduation in 2008, she's honed her style that consists of Eastern and Western massage techniques. When she's not working with patients, Elena spends her time reading and enjoying nature.

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