TENS units are small electrical devices that deliver tiny electrical impulses through electrodes. Typically, they are used to help treat pain, as the electrical impulses overflow the nervous system and prevent the transmission of pain signals.
We reviewed some of the best TENS units on the market. You’ll find all of our rankings below.
1. Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit
This unit comes with 24 pre-programmed massage modes designed to reduce pain caused by a variety of conditions. It comes in a dust-proof storage bag and ten pieces of self-adhesive reusable pads.
On top of having 24 modes, it also has 20 different intensity levels and a time control function. Plus, it’s completely portable. For these reasons, it is FitBug’s #1 pick.
2. TechCare Massager TENS Unit Plus
With 24 different preprogrammed modes, this unit can relieve a variety of pain. It can run for up to 20 hours before being recharged and has a timer for 10 to 60 minutes. It includes everything you need to use it right away.
You can even use it on two different users at the same time.
3. TENS 7000 2nd Edition
Designed to provide prescription-strength pain relief, this unit is perfect for treating common ailments like back pain and carpal tunnel. The electric impulses start reducing your discomfort instantly.
The strength of the unit is controlled using knobs. You can control up to four TENS unit pads at a time with this machine.
4. Auvon Dual Channel TENS Unit
This unit by Auvon has 20 different pre-set modes to help relieve pain caused by several different conditions. The intensity level is also easily adjusted for each specific mode.
It also comes with various reusable electrode pads that remain sticky for 45 uses.
5. HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS Unit
If you need a unit that is extremely easy to use, this is a good option. It comes with mode buttons, so you can easily find the best pain relief for you.
You can also adjust the speed of each mode to provide customized, natural pain relief.
6. Easy@Home TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator
With a 1-year product quality guarantee, you can rest assured that this unit will stand the test of time. It is powered by four AAA batteries, which are included.
The LCD screen makes it very easy to control the unit. You can select the exact massage you want and change the level of frequency.
7. Nursal EMS TENS Unit
This unit is rechargeable and can be used for 20 hours in between each charge. It is suitable for a large variety of pain, including back pain, arthritis, and shoulder TENSion.
It comes with a dust-proof pouch and is small enough to fit in your pocket for transportation. It comes with eight durable self-adhesive, reusable pads.
8. TENS Unit Machine Pulse by NueMedics
Created to be as user-friendly as possible, this unit has clearly labeled modes to help you pick the perfect one for your pain. Everything you need is included with the unit, including the electrode pads, charger, and user’s manual.
It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
9. Omron Max Power Relief TENS Unit
This unit is a bit more expensive than most, but it is also more powerful. It is designed for severe and chronic pain. If other units haven’t worked for you, this one might.
It comes with nine pre-set modes, including six pain modes and three massage modes. The controls are large, and the screen is quite useful for smooth operation.
10. TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator by Conree
With a user-friendly design, this TENS unit is straightforward to use. It has 12 massage modes, and the dual channels allow two users to use it at the same time.
The design is portable and compact, allowing you to carry it with you quickly.
How We Ranked
TENS units are used primarily for pain relief. Because of this, we firstly ranked each item by how much pain relief it provided. Typically, we found this information out using customer reviews and similar sources of information.
However, TENS units also come in a variety of strengths, which directly affects how much pain relief they provide. Because of this, more powerful units tend to be higher than the others. Still, we put more stack in customer reviews and based our evaluation of their effectiveness mostly on them. Therefore, most of the ones we ranked high are also ranked high on websites like Amazon.
Secondly, we considered how durable the machine was. We expect that our readers will be keeping these machines around for quite some time. They aren’t expensive, but they are very niche. You don’t want to be buying them over and over again every time you need one.
We also bumped up those with warranties for the same reason. If the unit has a warranty, you can guess that it will likely stand the test of time.
Thirdly, we took a look at the batteries of each unit. Most units have rechargeable batteries, but they tend to hold their charge for varying amounts of time. Some only stay charged for an hour or two, while others can remain charged for up to twenty hours.
Of course, how long each unit stays charged depends on what power and frequency you have it at. If you have it turned up, it will likely run down much faster.
If the unit was not rechargeable, we considered what type of battery is used and how many it used. A unit that uses two AA batteries is much better than one that uses three D batteries.
Finally, we considered how user-friendly the unit was. Each unit on our list has pre-programmed modes and simple controls. While there are some more complicated units with more features, we’ve found that most customers just need something simple they can use right away. When you’re in pain, you don’t want to spend an hour trying to figure out how to program your TENS unit.
TENS units can reduce pain during surgery. Various studies have shown that TENS units can significantly reduce the pain of specific procedures. One particular study looked at the pain relief a TENS unit provided during distension on a “frozen shoulder,” which is a moderately painful procedure. Some participants used a high-intensity TENS unit, some a low-intensity one, and others used the traditional pain relief method for that procedure.
Those in the TENS group found a 50% reduction in pain when compared to the control group that used other local anesthesia. The low-intensity group reported a 38% difference in pain (1).
Furthermore, the unit was well tolerated by the patients, and none of them reported any complications because of the electrical impulses.
TENS units can improve the speed of recovery after surgery. When used alongside knowledge of acupuncture, TENS units have been shown to reduce the recovery time and prevent common complications after surgery, like vomiting, for instance.
For this to work, the unit must be placed on specific pressure points, which are thought to affect certain parts of the brain. Because of this, it does require a certain level of knowledge from doctors and nurses.
Certain studies have found particular benefits after certain surgeries, like open-heart surgery, for instance. In one study, patients that were recovering from heart surgery were assigned to use the TENS unit on specific pressure points. On top of providing relief from vomiting and other post-surgery developments, the unit also reduced the myocardial work, which helps optimize cardiac rehabilitation (2).
TENS units can help with chronic pain. If you have a condition that causes chronic pain, you’re likely on some sort of pain medication prescribed by your doctor. However, these pain medications can cause many side effects and might not work the same for everyone. Some are even addictive.
On the other hand, TENS units have very few side effects and can be received without a prescription. They are also useful for all different types of pain as well and come in many different strengths and modes.
Many studies have pointed to the long-term usefulness of the TENS unit to help with chronic pain. One study specifically looked at TENS units as a way to relieve pain in those with chronic tension headaches. The study found that there was a significant reduction in pain when the patients used these units and also suggested the units as applicable for the long-term management of this condition (3).
TENS units can be used during labor. There are many options for pain relief during labor. A TENS unit is usually not suggested or used by hospitals during labor. However, studies have shown that it is a suitable method of pain relief that is non-invasive and often with fewer side effects (4).
Participants in one study reported significantly less pain when using a TENS machine than those in the control group. Furthermore, when asked if they’d use the TENS unit in a future birth, an overwhelming number of moms said yes – 96% (5).
TENS units can relieve ghost limb pain. Studies have found that TENS units are beneficial at reducing pain do to “ghost limbs,” especially during training with prosthetics. Plus, studies have suggested that the pain relief extends for a very long time, even without continuous use.
In one particular instance, three adult patients were treated using only a TENS unit. Their phantom limp pain was rated as severe and was interfering with their prosthetic training. After treatment, all three patients responded to treatment and were able to continue with prosthetic training. Furthermore, after six months, none of them reported a recurrence of pain (6).
TENS units can increase saliva flow. Saliva is essential for oral health. Dry mouth and other conditions associated with not having enough saliva can cause tooth decay and other problems. However, medications that help improve saliva flow often come with side effects and might not work for everyone. They may not increase saliva to an appropriate amount, either.
In these cases, the TENS unit can be somewhat helpful. In one study, 65 out of 80 patients had increased saliva production after being treated with a TENS unit. The only side effect was mild twitching in the face in 7 patients. However, no other side effects were reported, and the twitching stopped after use (7).
TENS units can decrease post-surgery pain. While we have looked at specific surgeries previously, there is evidence that the TENS unit is helpful after most surgeries. Full procedural guidelines have been written for after-surgery use, and there is currently a program that is promoting its use (8). Generally speaking, using the TENS unit instead of other therapies is often associated with a lower risk of complications, since a TENS unit is entirely non-invasive and doesn’t cause reactions with other drugs.
The program recommends using the unit for one to three days continuously after surgery, depending on how you react to the machine and how much pain you find yourself in. The TENS unit can be used alongside other medications, providing even more pain relief.
TENS units are non-invasive. When you use a TENS unit, you only have to attach small electrodes to your skin using adhesive pads. These pads are usually reusable. Because you can use a unit without taking a pill or otherwise inserting something into your body, they are much safer than most alternatives. If you react poorly to the unit, which is extremely unlikely, you can simply turn it off and detach it.
With that said, the effects of the unit do last for a very long time despite being non-invasive. In a study we have already mentioned, patients continued having less pain for at least six months after the study. In that particular study, the patients were not tracked after those six months, so, likely, the effects were still felt long after the study period.
Because it is non-invasive, it can also be used alongside nearly all other pain medications. If you’re having severe chronic pain and your usual medicines aren’t enough, a TENS device can provide you with the extra push you need to be nearly pain-free.
In other cases, some medication you’re on can prevent you from taking pain medication. In these situations, a TENS unit can be beneficial because it can be used alongside most medications with zero side effects. You can also use a TENS unit in cases where certain conditions may prevent you from using pain medication, like pregnancy, for example.
TENS units can interfere with ICDs, such as defibrillators and pacemakers. Because these devices work on electricity, and a TENS unit produces electricity, they can interfere with each other. Sometimes, this can cause inappropriate shock or even cause the ICD to stop working entirely.
TENS units don’t necessarily interfere with ICDs all the time, which can make it difficult for doctors to determine if interference is happening. Even if no interference appears during tests, the unit might still cause problems during certain situations (9).
TENS units can cause atrial flutters. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unless you have an underlying condition, you are very likely not going to be harmed by any fluttering in your heart rate caused by a TENS unit. However, the issue is that the flutter could be interpreted by a true arrhythmia by doctors. This can create incorrect diagnoses and unnecessary treatments or follow-ups (10).
If you’re using a TENS unit, be sure to let your doctor know whenever you see them. Most doctors are aware that these units can cause flutters, but they need to know that you’re using one so they can take that into account.
TENS units can cause redness and irritation. For the unit to work, you have to connect it to your body using electrodes. Sometimes, these electrodes can irritate. The longer you have the unit on, the more likely you are to experience some sort of skin irritation. Some people are more likely to get irritated as well. Certain parts of the body are more sensitive, as well.
Luckily, the electrodes can be moved over slightly away from the irritated area and still work most of the time. This gives the area a chance to heal and prevent further problems. Anti-inflammatory ointments have been shown to decrease skin irritation and are commonly prescribed to patients (11).
TENS units need to be charged. TENS units are usually designed to be portable, which means they run on batteries and must be charged regularly. Most units need to be charged every 8 to 24 hours. The exact model you have matters a lot, as does the level and frequency you have the unit at.
Charging the unit is usually not a problem for most users. However, it does mean that you must remember to charge the unit. If you forget, you’ll likely be out of luck for quite a while. If you have a serious surgery and need to use the unit regularly, you will need to purchase two so that you can use one while you’re charging the other. Luckily, the units aren’t costly, so you can typically do this with minimal issues (12).
TENS units are incredibly safe. Because they work externally and are non-invasive, they do not have any drug interactions. You can take nearly all medications alongside using a TENS device. There are very few conditions that would prevent you from using such a device as well. Of course, you should still speak to your doctor.
The exact amount of time you should use the unit varies depending on your condition. There is no strict guideline for the usage of a TENS unit, though there are no adverse reactions associated with overusing a TENS unit either. You can safely use one of these units as often as you like as long as you okay it with your doctor (13).
Generally, you want to use the unit for 20 minutes to 60 minutes four times a day for acute pain, and up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week for chronic pain. However, as we said, there is no evidence that states you can overuse one of these units.
It is essential to point out that the pain relief these devices provide extends beyond the time you have it on. The pain is not going to return when you shut the unit off. Often, the pain relief continues for the next four hours.
The frequency you put the machine at also matters. For acute pain, you should put it between 80Hz and 120Hz. For muscle stimulation, it should be between 35Hz and 50Hz. For chronic pain, it should be between 2Hz and 10Hz. Many TENS units also have a “constant” mode, which is at a set number of hertz.
What exactly does a TENS unit do? A TENS unit stimulates a part of your body using electrical signals, causing your body to produce endorphins, which are a natural painkiller. For this reason, they are often used to treat pain in a wide variety of situations.
Can a TENS unit be harmful? In most situations, no. A TENS unit just tricks your body into thinking you’re in much more pain than you are, which makes it release pain-fighting endorphins. There are some minor risks, like a chance of a minimal shock from a faulty unit. Using the units for an extended period can also cause skin irritation where you place the electrodes, but this is often minor. TENS units are just not that strong and can’t cause any severe problems for most users.
Certain conditions can potentially make a TENS unit dangerous, like if you have a pacemaker. However, the risk in even these “high risk” situations is shallow. Speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about using one of these units.
How often should you use a TENS unit? Generally, you can’t hurt yourself by using a TENS unit too much. The average unit just isn’t powerful enough to make any long-term changes to your body. They can only reduce pain and don’t do much else. Of course, there are certain circumstances where you might want to limit your use, such as if you have a pacemaker or a similar implant. Faulty units can provide tiny shocks on infrequent occasions, but this is not caused by using the unit too much.
The only downside to using the unit more than you need to is that you may irritate your skin underneath the electrode pads. This is because of the adhesive and pads themselves, not because of the electric shock. Luckily, you can often choose better adhesive pads if the ones that come with your unit bother you.
While you can’t use a unit too much, there are still general guidelines that you may want to follow. The pain relief these units provide lasts even after you stop using it, so there isn’t a need to use it constantly. Usually, after 30-60 minutes of use, the pain relief will last up to 4 hours. Most people use it four times a day, as that adds up to about 16 hours of pain relief and covers the time most people are awake. Of course, if your pain begins to wear off after 4 hours, it is usually considered safe to use it more often.
Does a TENS unit promote healing? There is some evidence that a TENS unit promotes healing in the skin and tendons (14). This is speculated to be due to an increase in blood flow the electrical signals create. Low-frequency impulses also release calcitonin gene-relayed peptide (CGRP), while high-frequency impulses release substance P (SP). Both of these have a positive effect on wound healing. Therefore, it might be suggested to use both low-frequency and high-frequency impulses if you’re specifically concerned about wound healing.
With that said, if you’re in a lot of pain, use whatever frequency is helpful for your pain. All electrical impulses appear to have a benefit on wound healing, so you won’t be missing out on much if you just stick with one frequency.
Does a TENS unit help inflammation? Yes. TENS has been shown in many different studies to reduce inflammation. Generally, high-frequency TENS is used when inflammation is present (15). Many studies looked at joint inflammation, specifically, which is connected to arthritis (16). However, a TENS unit will likely provide inflammation relief in a variety of conditions.
Can TENS unit damaged nerves? No. A TENS unit is simply not strong enough to damage your nerves permanently. The signals it sends out are no more potent than the ones your body uses all the time. In some cases, the unit may cause buzzing, tingling, or prickling feeling, which some people describe as uncomfortable. However, this usually clears up quite quickly or can even be counteracted by switching the unit to a different frequency.
Do TENS units relax muscles? Yes. TENS units can reduce muscle soreness, knots, and spasms (17). This is because the electrical impulses can relax your muscles, which can unwind knots and decrease overall soreness. These units can also increase your range of movement as well if it has been compromised by the soreness.
TENS units can accomplish this because of the decrease in “muscle guarding.” This is where your muscle becomes injured, usually because you used it more than usual, and then tightens up to prevent further injury. As the electrical signals these units produce ease pain through the release of endorphins, this response can begin to switch off, which reduces the tightness and pain coming from the muscle.
Can TENS cause heart attacks? There is some mixed evidence on whether or not a TENS unit can cause a heart attack. In many cases, the TENS unit will have a warning on it that says, “do not use if you have heart disease,” which leaves the impression that the units can damage your heart. However, the evidence on whether or not it causes heart attacks is unclear. Many doctors will use the unit for pain relief, even if you have heart disease. There are even studies that show the TENS unit might help reduce the symptoms of heart failure (18). TENS units also have been shown to not affect the blood flow through the heart with patients with heart transplants (19).
None of these leaves a clear indication of whether or not those with heart disease should use TENS units. We recommend speaking to your doctor since not all heart disease is the same. Each person is an individual and reacts to the TENS unit differently. It might be perfectly fine for you to use it, but you should do so under the direction of your doctor.
How can I make TENS pads sticky again? Over time, the TENS unit pads can become unsticky. This is usually because the pads become dirty, not because the sticky stuff comes off. Because of this, you can usually clean the pads to make them sticky again. Start by gently cleaning the pads with a damp cloth. If they still aren’t sticky, take an extra toothbrush and brush it lightly. This will help expose the sticky surface underneath all the dirt, which will make the pads sticky again.
Will a TENS unit help a pinched nerve? Sadly, there have not been very many studies regarding the use of a TENS unit to reduce lower back pain caused by a pinched nerve specifically. Many studies that looked at the effectiveness of a TENS unit on back pain left out patients with pinched nerves. There were also no studies that we could find that looked at pain relief regarding pinched nerves specifically.
Anecdotal evidence, in this case, is also confusing. You’ll find doctors that recommend the use of a TENS unit if you have a pinched nerve, as well as those that say it doesn’t work. There is no clear consensus on the matter.
In either case, using a TENS unit really couldn’t hurt. It is non-invasive and has fewer side effects than your average pain medication. You can try it to see if it works for you.
Do TENS units work for back pain? Back pain is caused by many different underlying conditions and situations. TENS units work better for some of these conditions than others. Furthermore, certain people react differently to these devices, especially if you have certain underlying conditions.
In general, TENS units can be useful for back pain. If you use the unit for the first time and don’t notice a difference, try playing with the frequency or the pulse type. These units are very versatile and can often deliver electrical impulses in many different ways.
How long do TENS pads last? About five months, on average, if you use them daily. That is about 150 uses in total. However, different pads are of different quality. High-quality pads will last longer, while extremely low-quality pads might be one-use only.
Luckily, you can change your pads whenever you need to, and they are pretty inexpensive. Usually, it is in your best interest to purchase high-quality pads, since they’ll cost you less money in the long-run and are typically easier to use.
Will a TENS machine help break up scar tissue? There is no evidence that a TENS unit will help get rid of scar tissue that has already formed. However, as we have previously stated, there is some evidence that TENS units can help to heal new wounds, which can lead to less scar tissue in the long-term.
You will hear some anecdotal evidence that TENS can “break up scar tissue.” However, no scientific studies have been performed on this topic.
How long does TENS pain relief last? Usually, pain relief will last for up to 4 hours. However, this varies widely. Some studies have reported the effects wearing off in only 5 minutes, while others report the effects lasting over 18 hours. Sometimes, the pain never seems to return at all. The effects seem to vary from person to person, location, and the type of pain (20).
TENS units help treat a variety of pain and even helping wounds heal. They’re used most often at home for minor pain relief but are being utilized more and more in medical settings. They are non-invasive and come with few side effects, which makes them a popular choice for pain relief.
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