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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. However, they may not be safe for people who are pregnant or have other conditions.
This article describes what TENS units are and explores some products available to buy online. It also lists some considerations a person should make before purchasing and answers frequently asked questions about TENS units.
- Best for personalized settings suggestions: Therabody PowerDot 2.0 Duo | Skip to Review
- Best for a range of massage simulations: HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS Unit | Skip to Review
- Best wireless design: iReliev Wireless TENS + EMS Therapeutic Wearable System | Skip to Review
- Best for short-term pain relief: HiDow Spot | Skip to Review
- Best budget option: TENKER TENS Unit | Skip to Review
- Best for foot pain: Omron Electrotherapy TENS | Skip to Review
- Best for period pain: Ovira Period Pain Relief Device | Skip to Review
- Best for nerve pain: Oxiline Tens X Pro | Skip to review
- Best with dual channels: AUVON Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit | Skip to review
- Best warranty: TechCare Plus TENS Unit | Skip to review
Medical News Today chooses TENS units based on the following criteria where possible:
- Price: MNT chooses products available for a wide range of budgets.
- Brand reputation: MNT chooses brands that adhere to industry best practices and that offer reliable customer service and support.
- Safety: MNT selects products from brands that do not make unsupported health claims. Products will include safety features, clear instructions, and information about side effects.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.
Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.
Best for personalized settings suggestions: Therabody PowerDot 2.0 Duo
- Price: $349
- Who it is best for: people who want app support during use
The PowerDot 2.0 Duo connects to a person’s smart device via Bluetooth. It uses TENS and neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES).
It comes with a Therabody app that serves as an intensity controller and guides a person through program selection and pad placement.
The app also offers personalized adjustments based on the data the user provides as well as access to its community.
The company recommends it for period pain and muscle recovery.
In addition, the product features 12 stimulation modes and 20 intensity settings. It also comes with:
- a lightweight design
- a rechargeable battery
- a protective carrying case
- a single channel
- 1-year warranty
A person can use the company’s 60-day trial to test the product before committing to a purchase.
- a person can control settings using the app
- the app offers personalized adjustments to individuals
- positive reviews mention it is easy to use and helpful for recovery after exercise
- expensive in comparison to competitors
- negative reviews focus on problems connecting to smart devices
Best for a range of massage simulations: HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS Unit
- Price: around $100
- Who it is best for: people looking to simulate massage
This device comes with 15 modes, nine auto-stimulation programs, and 20 levels of intensity. It uses TENS and EMS.
A person can choose which area of the body they wish to target with visual diagrams on the screen. Settings are labeled according to the area of the body for which they are suitable.
The EMS settings aim to mimic the feeling of massage. Users can choose their preferred method of massages, such as kneading, acupuncture, and cupping. As a result, this TENS machine may be best suited to people who wish to simulate the feeling of massage while they use the machine to relieve pain.
This device has four outputs that allow a person to use eight pads simultaneously. It also comes with a built-in belt clip.
Other features include:
- adjustable speed and intensity
- auto shut-off
- a dual channel
- a lifetime warranty
- offers multiple massage simulations
- the company provides a lifetime warranty
- positive reviews comment that it is effective at relaxing muscles and relieving pain
- more expensive than some competitors
- has a replaceable battery rather than a rechargeable one, which some reviewers said was not cost-effective over time
- critical reviews state it did not help with sciatic pain
Best wireless design: iReliev TENS + EMS Therapeutic Wearable System
- Price: around $190
- Who it is best for: people who need pain relief on the go
The iReliev has a wireless, low profile design for discreet, convenient use. A person can wear the pods on the go.
The unit comes with two pods that can be programmed as an isolated channel or paired together.
It uses TENS and EMS.
The hand control supports 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
- comes with a longer warranty than some competitors
- reviews on the brand’s website mention it is convenient, effectively relieves pain, and the pads adhere well to the skin
- unsuitable for small budgets
- critical reviews mention problems with pairing pods with the control unit
- some users said they received faulty products
Best for short-term pain relief: HiDow Spot
- Price: $119
- Who it is best for: people needing short-term pain relief
This wireless TENS machine has four modes. The manufacturer describes it as lightweight, portable, and suitable for people to use on the go.
The manufacturer claims it is suitable for muscle recovery for short-term pain. Buyers can use it on their back, hips, abdomen, and joints.
This TENS machine may suit people who would like to support their muscle recovery and reduce short-term post-workout pain.
- covers a large surface area
- does not require wires
- device is portable
- only has a maximum of four modes
- no reviews of this machine on the company’s website
Best affordable option: TENKER TENS Unit
- Price: about $40
- Who it is best for: people with smaller budgets
This TENS machine is an affordable, rechargeable option.
It has 24 TENS modes and 20 levels of intensity. It also has a timer that people can set for between 10–60 minutes.
This machine features dual output, meaning a person can simultaneously use different settings for different body areas.
The manufacturer writes that the battery lasts for 10 hours.
This machine is significantly more affordable than other options, making it suitable for people working with smaller budgets.
- features 24 modes
- is a more affordable option in comparison with competitors
- positive reviews mention the pack includes a storage device for the electrodes, which some buyers found useful
- some users report poor electrode quality
- critical reviews frequently state that the pads are not sticky enough
Best for foot pain: Omron Electrotherapy TENS
- Price: around $39
- Who it is best for: people with foot pain
This TENS machine from Omron may be best suited to a person with foot pain, as it has a preset program to ease pain in the legs and feet.
It also has preset programs for arm and shoulder pain and for the lower back. There is a knead and steady massage mode available and 10 intensity levels.
Its design is small and discreet, and it is designed for people to use on the go.
The TENS unit comes with one pair of long-life electrode pads that the manufacturer claims can be used up to 150 times.
- features preset programs for targeted pain relief
- is more affordable than some options and is portable
- positive reviews write that it is practical and easy to use
- fewer modes than some other devices
- comes with just one pair of electrodes
- negative reviews mention the wiring is not durable and it may not be powerful enough for some
Best for period pain: Ovira Period Pain Relief Device
- Price: around $150
- Who it is best for: those with period pain
This TENS machine is specifically designed to ease period pain.
The pack includes two pads, a TENS machine, charging cables, and a storage pouch. It has a very discreet, small design so that people can wear it all day under their clothes. The machine clips onto underwear.
The company writes that a person sticks the electrodes onto their stomach or back. The machine sends electrical pulses to redirect pain signals.
According to Ovira, the battery lasts all day.
The company offers a 100-day free trial, and a person may be able to claim this purchase on their health insurance. The device also comes with a 2-year warranty.
- may be covered by health insurance
- the company claims the battery can last all day
- positive reviews mention that the device offers immediate relief from period pain
- has only one massage or vibration option
- some reviewers note that it was not effective for intense period pain
Best for nerve pain: Oxiline Tens X Pro
- Price: $179
- Who it is best for: those with nerve pain
According to Oxiline, this TENS machine features hyper-accurate nerve targeting. Therefore, it may be suited to those with nerve pain.
With a purchase, a person receives the device, six high-grade carbon and silicone electrode pads, two-channel cables, a USB charger, a travel pouch, and an instruction manual.
It comes with 32 modes, which include deep tissue, cupping, and acupuncture. The device has FDA clearance.
The company says that the built-in battery should last for approximately 12 hours.
It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a lifetime warranty.
- company offers free shipping
- device has clearance from the FDA
- positive reviews mention that the device is easy to use and works to reduce pain
- expensive in comparison to some competitors
- no negative reviews on the company’s website, so these may have been filtered out
Best with dual channels: AUVON Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit
- Price: around $36
- Who it is best for: people wanting dual channels for different modes and intensities
This device features dual channels for individuals who would like to pre-program different modes and intensities.
A purchase include a TENS machine, twelve electrode pads, two lead wires, a USB charging cable, a dust-proof storage pouch, and an instruction manual.
There are three color options a person can choose from.
The device has 20 levels of intensity and 24 preprogrammed massage modes with adjustable times. It also features a rechargeable battery which the company claims can provide 10 hours of use.
AUVON offers a 12-month warranty and a 30-day worry-free returns policy.
- pocket-sized and portable device
- affordably priced in comparison to competitors
- positive reviews mention that the device is easy to use and is effective at reducing pain
- a few reviewers mention the device gave them electric shocks
- some reviewers say they received faulty devices
Best warranty: TechCare Plus TENS Unit
- Price: around $39
- Who it is best for: people wanting a lifetime warranty
TechCare provides a lifetime warranty for this TENS unit. The company also gives a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Included in a purchase is the TENS unit controller, three large electrodes, one pair of extra large pads, one pair of small pads, two electrode cables, users manual, a USB and wall charger, one small electrode pad and wire holder, one treatment points chart, and a belt clip.
The unit has FDA approval and features 24 preprogrammed massage modes. A person can adjust the timer for these modes anywhere between 20-60 minutes.
It has a rechargeable battery which the company claims has 20 hours of use from one charge.
The device has a large LCD display which TechCare says is easy to use and read.
- supplies both extra large and small pads
- has FDA approval
- positive reviews suggest the device is affordable and works well
- some reviewers say they had poor customer service and had to register to receive their lifetime warranty
- several reviewers comment on receiving faulty devices or it stopping working
The table below compares each of the TENS machines for price, the number of settings, and their advantages and disadvantages.
|Price||Who it is best for||Number of modes||Advantages||Disadvantages|
|Therabody||$349||people who want support during use||12||• personalized setting suggestions|
• comes with app
|price is high compared to other products|
|Healthmate Forever||around $100||people who want massage simulation||15||• includes range of massage types|
• lifetime warranty
|• not rechargeable|
• more expensive
|iReliev||around $190||people needing pain relief on the go||14||long warranty||price is high compared to other products|
|HiDow||around $119||people needing short-term pain relief||4||• rechargeable|
• large surface area
|maximum of 4 modes|
|TENKER||around $40||people on a budget||24||• affordable|
• 24 modes
|users report poor electrode quality|
|Omron||around $39||people with foot pain||10||• preset programs for targeted pain relief|
• discreet size
|• fewer modes than other units|
• comes with one pair of electrodes
|Ovira||around $150||people with period pain||not stated||• discreet|
• suitable for period pain
• health insurance covered
• all-day battery life
|has one massage or vibration mode|
|Oxiline||$179||people with nerve pain||32||• FDA-clearance|
• free shipping
• 12-hours of battery life
• large LCD display
• lifetime warranty
|price is quite high compared to others|
|AUVON||around $38||people wanting dual channels||20 intensity, 24 massage||• pocket-sized and portable|
• three color options
|reviewers mention receiving faulty devices and that the machine gives off electric shocks|
|TechCare||around $39||people wanting a lifetime warranty||24||• has FDA approval|
• comes with both small and extra-large pads
• affordably priced
• lifetime warranty
|reviewers mention needing to sign up for the warranty, poor customer service, and receiving faulty devices|
TENS is a noninvasive pain relief management device. It sends a mild electrical current through electrodes attached to the skin.
Electrical 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. The TENS device stimulates the nerve endings to produce endorphins to reduce pain. Endorphins block the brain’s transmission of pain signals.
- peripheral artery disease
- diabetic neuropathy
- multiple sclerosis
A 2021 study also noted that TENS therapy provided immediate pain relief in people with chronic low back pain.
According to another 2021 study, TENS units are safe for people who have endometriosis and menstrual cramps, as they can alleviate pain and manage primary dysmenorrhea.
Using TENS is
TENS can also cause metallic or electronic implants, such as defibrillators and cardiac pacemakers, to malfunction.
A person should not use TENS machines while driving, operating machinery, or while in contact with water, such as bathing, showering, or swimming.
A person should never place TENS pads on the following areas:
- front or sides of the neck
- numb skin
- irritated or broken skin
- varicose veins
- the chest and upper back simultaneously
Also, people with any of the following conditions should not use TENS units:
- heart disease
- deep vein thrombosis
- cognitive and intellectual impairments
TENS is safe during pregnancy, but a person with a history of early miscarriage or a previous abortion should not use TENS while pregnant.
If a person has had complications in their current pregnancy, they should not use TENS.
A person should be careful when placing the TENS electrodes during pregnancy. Putting them in certain locations can cause labor contractions. These areas include:
- web space between thumb
- lower half of the leg or ankle
- top of the shoulders
If a person develops labor contractions while using TENS, they should immediately turn off the machine and speak with a doctor.
A person must always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and stop using a TENS machine that is faulty, makes pain worse, or causes skin reactions.
People should consult a doctor or physical therapist to determine how and when to use a TENS unit.
TENS units can be used daily. A person should start on a low setting and gradually increase it to find the right intensity.
A person can use them to help ease pain from a wide range of conditions, including:
- period pain
- knee pain
- sports injuries
Generally, a person will place the pads at
If a person experiences side effects from using a TENS machine, they should stop using it and contact a doctor.
TENS units can provide pain relief with
However, a person should speak with a doctor before using a TENS unit. A doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of a person’s pain. They can advise on whether a TENS machine will be a safe and suitable method of pain relief.
TENS machines are not safe for everyone. People should not use TENS machines without speaking with a doctor first if they:
- have a pacemaker
- have other electrical or metal implants
- are pregnant
- have epilepsy
- have a heart condition
- have overactive bladder
Learn more about TENS for overactive bladder.
If a person develops skin irritation from the pads, they should stop using the TENS machine and speak with a doctor. There may be hypoallergenic pads available.
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. These might suit people who wish to use the product while working.
- Timer: Many devices come with preset timers, 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 rechargeable batteries, while others use disposable ones. A person should consider how long a full charge can last if they use it continuously and how cost-effective units will be if they need to replace batteries regularly.
- 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 EMS effective in improving the quality of life and physical outcomes in people with advanced stages of cancer.
Below, we answer some of the top frequently asked 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 relieve pain. EMS contracts the muscles and is suitable for rehabilitation and strength performance.
Does TENS hurt?
Typically, TENS does not hurt. However, people will have different thresholds regarding how comfortable they find higher intensity TENS settings.
A person should start using lower settings and gradually work up, only using an intensity level with which they are comfortable.
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 noninvasive, nonaddictive pain relief option that does not cause any side effects.
Are TENS units worth it?
TENS units can be an effective and affordable method of pain relief, depending on the TENS machine a person chooses. Additionally, research has found TENS to have few to no side effects.
A person should speak with a doctor to determine whether a TENS machine will be effective for their pain.
What’s the best TENS unit to buy?
This will vary between individuals. However, a person may wish to consider purchasing a TENS unit with different modes so they can find the setting which works best for them.
Can a TENS unit damage the nerves?
There is no research available to suggest that a TENS unit can cause damage to the nerves. However, a person should consult with a doctor before using a TENS unit for the first time and notify them if they experience any side effects.
TENS units can help reduce pain in people with arthritis, sciatica, period pain, and other conditions.
They are available without a prescription.
However, people should first consult a medical professional to diagnose their pain and help them find the best TENS unit that suits their needs.