When your body is in pain, the number one goal is to find relief fast! A TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit or portable muscle simulator can be used to quickly manage nerve-related pain without any drugs or harmful side effects. No needles! No drugs! We’ll show you the best TENS Units in terms of features, reviews, and value for your money.
As a registered Pharmacist who travels quite a bit, I’ve seen how effective these TENS Units can be first-hand. Many of my patients – and even family and friends – suffering with chronic pain have found blessed relief using a good quality TENS machine. I’ll give you a list of the Best TENS Units to use as an Ultimate Buying Guide – see below. I’m sure you have lots of questions and I’ll do my best to answer them here, too.
Table of Contents
Best TENS Unit for Pain Relief
Whether you suffer from:
- painful arthritis
- chronic back and shoulder pain
- plantar fasciitis
- gout pain
- low back pain
- painful periods
- peripheral neuropathy
- bursitis, pulled muscles
- sports injuries
- carpal tunnel
- tennis elbow
- or any other conditions causing aching discomfort in your joints or muscles; a TENS Unit just might be the answer you’ve been looking for – without addicting medications that might make you feel groggy all the time.
So without further ado, I’d like to present our BEST TENS UNIT ULTIMATE BUYING GUIDE. (If you’re interested in learning even more about TENS machines and their features, as well as how they work to stop the nerve impulses causing pain in your body – I’ve added more general information after the guide.)
BEST TENS UNIT BUYING GUIDE
We’ve put together this guide to make it easier to wade through the seemingly endless list of TENS machines available – and updated it to include the most recent models. This list of the Best TENS machines was picked based on their ease of use, affordability, recommendations from other health professionals, portability, and extra features. Those with more positive reviews from other users and health professionals were given a heavier weight.
Best TENS Unit By Reviews
Wireless TENS Units
Portable TENS Units for Travel
Best TENS Unit Gallery with Features & Photos
|iReliev Playmakar (more expensive, but wireless!)
|Nursal TENS UNIT
|iReliev TENS UNIT
|HealthMateForever Portable Model HM8ML
|1byone Bluetooth Wireless TENS Therapy
|TENS 7000 2nd Edition
|TechCare Plus24 TENS Bundle
Will TENS Therapy Help My Pain?
TENS Unit Therapy is the application of electrical current through electrodes placed on the skin for pain control. The electrical stimulation given by a TENS machine may be enough to effectively block the body’s gateway pain receptor signals to the brain and provide prescription strength pain relief without the side effects. See below.
A TENS machine also stimulates endorphin release (the body’s natural painkillers) to help reduce pain. Endorphins were first discovered in 1975. They are natural opiate-like substances, similar to morphine, but not as potent and without the side effects. Endorphins are manufactured by our bodies in response to pain and act as a natural pain killer. Endorphins are released by the descending nerve fibers or nerves which travel down the spinal cord from the brain. TENS unit stimulation can increase natural endorphins, “the body’s feel-good chemical”, as a natural pain reliever.
Best TENS machine to target a particular area of pain?
For specific areas of the body that hurt – for example, pain of plantar fasciitis in the feet and ankles – electrode TENS sandals provide a unique and effective way to target the pain. I use these TENS sandals when plantar fasciitis tries to slow me down and can highly recommend them!
Lower Back Pain
For lower back pain, a TENS back belt can be a much more convenient and powerful way to cover a larger area than with electrode TENS pads alone. With the electrodes enclosed within the back belt, you simply wrap it around the sore area and connect it to your TENS unit. These are also portable and easy to bring along when traveling!
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome & Hand Pain
When your hands are sore and aching, it affects every aspect of your life. Using a TENS machine with a Palm Massage tool to target hand and wrist pain is a safe and effective way to get your life back. Wearable electrode gloves ensure the proper electrical stimulation is sent to the areas that hurt the most. These are also small enough to slip into your bag or purse and be taken with you wherever you go!
Is a TENS Unit Scientifically Proven to Work?
Scientific Studies on TENS Units
Directly from the study cited in Current Rheumatology Reports: “Specifically, we show that low-frequency TENS activates μ-opioid receptors in the spinal cord and the brainstem, whereas high-frequency TENS activates δ-opioid receptors in the spinal cord and the brainstem.” TENS therapy activates the same receptors in the body as powerful opioid drugs.
A 2016 study on lower back pain sufferers showed fixed-site TENS Units to be a safe and effective option for treating chronic low back and lower extremity pain. These results motivate the development of wearable analgesic devices.
For fibromyalgia sufferers, the news is very good. A recent study from the Carver College of Medicine has shown TENS Unit stimulation may significantly increase quality of life in terms of pain, fatigue and function for those with primary fibromyalgia.
How To Use A TENS Machine
In the not-so-distant past, TENS machines were only available in the offices of physical therapists and physicians. Today the best TENS units are completely portable and can be used almost anywhere. Having hand-held pain relief available for home and travel is a Godsend to many suffering with chronic pain.
Your TENS machine package should come with a handheld TENS unit (this provides the small electrical charge), electrode wires (unless it’s a wireless model) and electrode pads to connect to the wires. TENS therapy is applied directly to the skin using the TENS unit and small gel-coated pads or electrodes.
Now place the electrode pads around the area in pain. Here is an older video from ProCare Pharmacy showing a 2 lead unit (today’s units are much small and more advanced), but it will give you an idea of the proper pad placement.
You control the amount of electrical stimulation (intensity) of the TENS unit by varying frequencies, from low (< 10 Hz) to high (> 50 Hz). TENS therapy is thought to work by alteration of the body’s ability to receive or perceive pain signals rather than by having a direct effect on the muscle contractions. Try all of the different channels and work up to the right intensity to ease your pain.
It often helps to vary the time, intensity, and channel used as our muscles can adapt to the stimulus over time and it may feel as though the TENS unit isn’t working. Keep experimenting with different combinations to give your body the best chance of success.
Frequently Asked Questions on the Best TENS Units
Are TENS Units Something New?
No. TENS units have been used by doctors and physical therapists for over 40 years with great success. Now, instead of having to go into the doctor’s office for pain relief therapy, today there are portable units for personal use with the same pain relieving power output. Use the Best TENS Units Buying Guide above to find a model that can work for you at home or for travel.
Are TENS Units FDA Approved?
Because TENS units and EMS (electronic muscle stimulation) units are considered Medical Devices by the FDA, the companies who manufacture them must show that the device is safe and effective when used as directed. By purchasing an “FDA Approved” device, you’re ensuring the FDA has determined the product is properly designed, manufactured, and labeled to provide reasonable assurance that they are safe and effective for over-the-counter (OTC) use.
What are EMS and PMS?
EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) occurs when a device (such as a specially-designed TENS unit) mimics the body’s electrical impulse system and causes muscles to contract. EMS differs from TENS in that EMS is centered on the muscle groups, while TENS focuses on the nerve pathways.
PMS (powered muscle stimulation) occurs when a group muscles are caused to contract by use of electrical stimulation. These electrical impulses are generated by the TENS machine and delivered through electrode pads placed directly on or near the muscle group being targeted.
Both EMS and PMS muscle stimulation are used to treat swelling and inflammation that can put a strain on both the muscles themselves and their supporting joints. Look for a TENS unit with EMS or PMS capabilities to encourage greater healing of the muscles by stimulating blood flow and improving range of motion.
What Features Should My TENS Unit Have?
There are so many TENS units on the market, it can be difficult to decide which one is the best. You can use the Best TENS Units Buying Guide above to narrow down your choices. Features to look for include dual or quad channels (to stimulate more than one area at a time), rechargeable batteries (or wireless capability) and programmable sessions (because once you find the perfect pain relief level, you’ll want to use it again and again!).
Some TENS machines have rechargeable lithium batteries and others use easily available 9-volt, AA or AAA batteries. Rechargeable machines may be more attractive if you’re using your unit often, but it’s a personal preference. Other attractive features to look for are portability if you’re planning to travel with your unit, wireless capability if cords are a nuisance, and an easy-to-see screen with back light if it will be used in a darkened room.
Most of the best TENS units sold today will have a good warranty, but it doesn’t hurt to double check. Some companies give a lifetime warranty, while others will cover the unit for 30 days after purchase. All the machines recommended above do come with a good warranty for return.
Will Insurance Pay for My TENS Machine?
Many insurance plans will reimburse (pay you back) for the purchase of a TENS Unit for chronic pain relief. Medicare Part B may cover the cost of your machine if you are someone who has been suffering from chronic pain for at least three months, for which other, standard pain relief methods have failed. Give your insurance company a call and ask what they require in terms of receipts for reimbursement or if they have a particular brand they prefer.
Can You Take a TENS Unit on a Plane?
YES! Directly from the TSA website:“TENS units are allowed in both carry-on and checked bags. If your doctor has told you that your specific TENS unit shouldn’t go through an X-ray, you should notify the TSA officer so they can conduct alternate screening. To help you get through security more efficiently, remove your TENS unit from your carry-on bag and put it in the screening bin so the TSA officer can get a clear view of it.”
If you travel often with your TENS unit, size and weight might be more important than if you’re only using it at home. Some units come with a belt clip that make it completely portable, even while out walking or on a long plane trip.
Should I Buy Extra TENS Unit Supplies?
Most of the Best TENS Units will come with enough basic supplies – like electrode pads – to get you started. To increase the conductivity of the electrode pads, some people find it necessary to use a drop or two of TENS conductivity gel applied to the pads. TENS gel also increases the life of the pads so they don’t have to be replaced as often.
The electrode pads that come with each TENS unit are usually coated with a special sticky, gel-like substance that helps them adhere to the body, but can still be reused time and time again. After a while though, the stickiness of the TENS pads will go away and you’ll have to replace the pads. You can buy TENS pads in large sizes for areas like the back or shoulder and smaller pads for the wrist or elbows.
Any Other Questions About The Best TENS Machine?
If there are other questions you have about this Best TENS Unit and Ultimate Buying Guide article, please don’t hesitate to ask here. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll certainly try to find it for you!
Take care and please let me know if this works well for your pain relief!
Lisa Chavis, RPh
And as with all medical conditions discussed on the Internet, check first with your doctor before using any alternative treatments. Do NOT use any TENS device on patients who have a cardiac pacemaker, implanted defibrillator, or other implanted metallic or electronic device, as this may cause electric shock, burns, electrical interference, or other serious medical situations.
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