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Many brands offer transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units that can help reduce pain. They are suitable for people with sciatica, arthritis, and fibromyalgia, but they may not be safe for those who are pregnant or have other conditions.

This article describes what TENS units are and explores some products available on the market. It also lists some considerations and frequently asked questions.

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TENS is a non-invasive pain relief management device that sends a mild electrical current through electrodes attached to the skin. Electro muscle stimulation (EMS) is a physical therapy and fitness technique that also uses electrodes to transmit electrical impulses.

A TENS unit comes with:

  • a battery-powered generator
  • a single or dual-channel
  • lead cables
  • sticky patches, or electrodes

A person places the electrodes on or around the painful area, and the TENS device stimulates the nerve endings to produce endorphins to reduce pain. Endorphins block the brain’s transmission of pain signals.

According to a 2014 article, TENS therapy helps improve blood circulation, strengthen the muscles, and control edema.

Doctors may recommend using a TENS unit for acute and chronic pain that results from surgery and other health conditions, including:

Furthermore, a 2020 study reviewed the effects of a 4-week TENS treatment in people with fibromyalgia and found significant improvements in movement-evoked pain and fatigue.

Another study also notes that TENS therapy provides an immediate analgesic effect in chronic low back pain.

According to this recent study, TENS units are safe for women who have endometriosis and menstrual cramps, as they can alleviate pain and manage primary dysmenorrhea.

Also, one review article found that TENS can significantly reduce pain during labor.

Learn more about TENS here.

Using TENS is generally safe and does not have side effects. However, the adhesive pads can cause allergic reactions, but special non-allergenic pads are available.

TENS can also cause metallic or electronic implants, such as defibrillators and cardiac pacemakers, to malfunction. A person should not use TENS units on or over the eyes, mouth, head, neck, and some other areas.

Also, people with any of the following conditions should not use TENS units:

Individuals should consult with a doctor or a physical therapist to determine how and when to use a TENS unit.

Below are seven of the best TENS units that a person can find online:

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried any of these products. All information presented is purely research-based.

Nursal

Best TENS unit for period pain

Nursal is the newer version of the Tec.Bean TENS unit and is suitable for people who have period pains. Nursal users also note its effectiveness in relieving endometriosis pain.

The tens unit comes with 24 stimulation modes and 20 intensity settings, and users can also benefit from other features, such as:

  • a rechargeable battery
  • a dual channel
  • an adjustable timer
  • a portable design
  • a 12-month warranty

AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit

Best TENS unit for sciatica

The AUVON TENS unit comes with eight reusable electrodes and a dual-channel that allows a person to run different modes and intensities per channel. Many users found the unit helpful in relieving sciatica pain and herniated disc pain.

The product also has 20 stimulation modes and intensity levels.

Other features include:

  • a pads holder
  • a rechargeable power source
  • up to 10 hours of continuous use
  • a dual channel
  • TENS/EMS: TENS
  • a 12-month warranty

Therabody Power Dot 2.0 Duo

Best wireless TENS unit

The Power Dot 2.0 Duo connects to a person’s smart device via Bluetooth. It comes with a Therabody app that serves as an intensity controller and guides an individual through program selection and pad placement.

The app also offers individuals personalized adjustments based on the data they provide and access to its community.

In addition, the product features 12 stimulation modes and 20 intensity settings, and it also comes with:

  • a lightweight design
  • a rechargeable power source
  • a protective carrying case
  • a single channel

NueMedics TENS 24 Massager TENS Unit Machine

Best portable TENS unit

The NueMedics TENS unit has a large LCD, a built-in rechargeable battery, and a protective cover case.

The unit clearly labeled modes such as “Knead,” “Acu,” “Back,” and “Foot/Hand.” People who bought this unit praise its intensity, excellent battery life, and portability.

There are also other features that users can benefit from:

  • up to 20 hours of continuous use
  • 24 pre-programmed massage modes
  • a pad holder
  • a dual channel
  • a lifetime warranty

HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS Unit

Best combo TENS unit

This device has four outputs that allow a person to use eight pads simultaneously, and it also comes with a built-in belt clip for portability.

People can also find 15 modes and nine auto-stimulation programs.

The below are some other features:

  • speed and intensity adjustability
  • auto shut-off
  • a dual channel
  • a backlit LCD
  • a lifetime warranty

TENS 7000

Most powerful TENS unit

The TENS 7000 is a dual-channel TENS device that allows a person to adjust the intensity levels from 0-100 milliAmperes (mA) in 10mA increments per channel using their respective knobs.

It only offers four modes. However, it allows the user to finetune the pulse rate and pulse width to customize the intensity based on their comfort level.

Other features include

  • 10 intensity settings
  • battery-powered
  • a dual channel
  • a 1-year warranty

iRelieve Wireless Premium TENS + EMS Therapeutic Wearable System

Best all-round TENS unit

The iRelieve has a wireless, low-profile design for discreet, convenient use. The unit comes with two pods that can be programmed as an isolated channel or paired together.

However, the hand control can support up to four channels, allowing people to upgrade their devices for expanded coverage.

The device also has other features, such as:

  • 14 stimulation modes
  • an EMS system
  • a rechargeable power source
  • wireless technology
  • a 2-year arranty

Features to consider when choosing a TENS unit include:

  • Treatment modes: Units with various treatment modes allow a person to choose a mode that offers relief for a specific body area.
  • Intensity levels: These allow the user to adjust the unit’s power based on their tolerance. Digital adjustments offer more graded control than dials or knobs.
  • Portability: Some devices have a small and lightweight design, and these might suit people who wish to use the product while working.
  • Timer: Many devices come in preset times, while others feature an adjustable timer. Most machines also come with an auto shut-off feature.
  • Channels: TENS units with dual channels allow people to use each channel with different modes and intensities.
  • Power source: Some devices use built-in rechargeable batteries or disposable ones. A person should consider how long a full charge can last if they use it continuously.
  • EMS: Some TENS units have EMS functions as well. EMS may help strengthen and stimulate muscles and may be ideal for rehabilitation and improving sports performance. A 2020 study found it effective in improving the quality of life and physical outcomes in people in advanced stages of cancer.

The following are common questions about TENS units:

What is the difference between TENS and EMS?

While both TENS and EMS apply electrical currents in the body, TENS aims to produce pain relief while EMS contracts the muscles and is suitable for rehabilitation and strength performance.

Does TENS hurt?

TENS units do not hurt. However, a person should use an intensity level that they are comfortable with.

Does TENS help sciatica?

TENS may relieve a person’s discomfort from sciatica pain and help them regain mobility to perform daily activities.

Is TENS safe?

TENS is a non-invasive, non-addictive pain relief option that does not cause any side effects.

TENS units can reduce pain in individuals with arthritis, sciatica, fibromyalgia, and other conditions.

They are available without a prescription. However, people should first consult a medical professional to help them find the best unit that suits their needs.