TENS therapy, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation treatment, is designed to relieve non-chronic pain by administering pulses of electricity directly onto the skin (we pick the best TENS unit below to help with that).
Those pulses penetrate the nerves, relieving the discomfort of acute pain by confusing the pain signals that go from nerves to the brain. It isn't a long-term solution. Instead, think of it as applying an ice pack to the affected area or taking an anti-inflammatory.
It isn't intended for severe pain that doesn't subside, like the chronic pain associated with a disease or physical severe conditions. It's used instead for short-lived acute pain, like the kind associated with sports injuries or child labor.
Some doctors use it for painful but short medical procedures, like IUD insertion. Physical and massage therapists use it in addition to massage and manipulation for acute back pain, or muscle pain in the neck, shoulders, or legs.
TENS vs EMS: TENS is not to be confused with EMS, which is electrical muscle stimulation. Both send electrical impulses in low voltage doses to the body, but whereas TENS targets nerves, EMS is a muscle stimulator, causing the muscles to contract.
EMS is used more for relieving muscle tension and pain, in rehabilitation situations, or for increasing circulation. Research has shown that electrical stimulation therapy is effective in treating pain and preferred for its safety, convenience, and cost-effectiveness.
There are many units available for home use, and a portable TENS unit is a great tool to have at the ready for quick relief from acute pain. Here are the best units available and a quick guide to help you pick the one that's best for you.
Best Tens Machine for Pain Management
TENS 7000 Second Edition
Editor's Choice [Update: March 2018]
Our pick for the best home TENS unit, the TENS 7000 SE is full featured, incredibly powerful, and the choice of most users.
It has two channels so that you can use either two or all four included electrodes.
The burst rate and pulse are both adjustable. You can use the built-in timer to change the configurations every five minutes for up to an hour or choose to have the same setting continuously.
There are five modes to choose from, so you can find the best electrical impulse delivery pattern to suit your particular needs. The digital display is easy to read so you can view the mode, hertz rate, and timer at a glance.
It also comes with a built-in clip for easy belt attachment. It's small and light and has rubber bumpers on the sides to help protect it from being dropped or bumped.
The included user manual has detailed instructions on how to use it and change the settings, mode, and display. You can select to have between 0 and 50 volts of electrical impulses delivered, making this the most powerful TENS unit machine you can buy.
HealthmateForever YK15AB Tens Unit
This is a great home device for those who aren't keen on going one hundred percent digital.
It utilizes a combination of the digital display via an LCD screen, and manual buttons, clearly marked for the different areas you want to target, such as neck, back, knee, etc.
Many home users prefer this labeling to having to select the pulse or wave level or form, as it's quicker and easier to get the impulse strength and type that directly corresponds to where you need the relief.
This full feature automation also includes not only the strength of the magnetic pulse but what type of massage it delivers. This way you don't have to think about whether you need or want kneading, tapping, scraping, random, or another type of massage.
This smart unit does all the thinking for you. The LCD screen has backlighting, so it's easy to read in the dark. It has four outputs, 20 levels of intensity, and 15 different modes to choose from.
You get the same level of strength whether you use one or all four outputs, and it has the same level of power and intensity as most doctors' and therapists' units.
It comes with eight electrodes. You can choose between various manual and automatic programs, and it has an automatic shut off for safety.
Omron Electrotherapy Pain Relief Device PM3030
If you're going for something compact and fairly basic but still very effective, this is an excellent pick. Small, easy to use, and ergonomically designed to fit snugly into your palm, the Omron PM 3030 is an excellent portable TENS device.
It has built-in programs designed to target three different pain modes: feet and legs, arms, or lower back. And within each program, you can choose from five intensity levels.
It's small enough to carry around in your pocket, and has an automatic shutoff feature for safety. It comes with two self-adhering pads that are large enough to fit most pain spots on your body areas, which you can use up to 150 times before they need to be replaced.
iReliev TENS and EMS Combination Unit
Combining both the electrical impulses of a TENS device, targeting your nerves and blocking the pain signal to your brain, with that of an EMS device, which serves to contract muscles to relieve pain and stimulate rehabilitation, this one is a two-in-one pain relieving machine.
It's also packed with impressive features and designed to deliver low voltage but high-intensity electrical stimulation.
It's got 14 different modes to choose from, six of which are EMS-specific, for strengthening muscles and recovery.
Seven are TENS, designed to relieve pain. And one is a TENS setting that is specifically for arthritis pain. It has a range of 25 levels for intensity, a timer that you can set for anywhere from five minutes to an hour, two channels, and a lock.
FDA Cleared HealthmateForever Pro15AB
If you're looking for a wireless unit, this one will fit the bill when you combine it with the wireless kit WI-9. In addition to relieving pain, the Pro15AB has a body building mode, which can be used to tone, firm and build strength.
It has two separate channels so you can use one or both and get the same level of power. You can adjust the intensity between 20 levels, and it has 15 programmed modes built in.
It delivers a wide range of impulses that utilize Shiatsu, deep tissue, cupping, tapping, acupuncture, back pain, joint and feet, bodybuilding, and various combinations. It has a large LCD display screen with a backlight, so it's easy to see the body part being targeted, the program being used, and the intensity level, to name a few.
It also comes with a lifetime warranty. And of course, as the name suggests, it's been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.
This is an excellent unit that's a good choice if you have severe pain and like lots of options.
If you have found that a combination of TENS units and EMS is better for relieving your pain, the Omega is a great option.
It combines both technologies in one portable unit, to deliver ultimate pain relief.
It comes with four adhesive electrodes that you can reuse. You can choose from two different modes and three programs within which you can select the length and frequency of the pulses.
It has six buttons that correspond to the different body parts you can target, feet, hands, knees, neck, back, and shoulders.
It features an excellent digital display so you can easily see the mode, body part, pulse setting, and program in use. It's small and light, making it easy to carry and take with you. It also has a clip so you can attach it to a belt when you're on the go.
HealthmateForever 15 Modes
An updated version of the YK15AB, this device has four outputs on two separate channels, enabling you to use either or both channels without losing power.
It's got the same great features of the YK15AB, and upgrades based on what customers said they most wanted. The software and hardware have been updated, and most of the settings, like the intensity, timer, and speed, are easier to use and adjust.
It's got the same great display and intuitively labeled buttons.
It has 15 preset program modes that deliver massage and nine that are customized to target hips, back, shoulders, elbows, wrists, neck, knees, feet and hands, and ankles.
The customized modes utilize cupping, kneading, tapping, random, acupuncture, and scraping techniques.
You can adjust the timer from between 10 and 80 minutes, and you get about ten hours of use on each rechargeable battery charge.
This is an excellent choice if you have severe pain and like an easy-to-use device that doesn't require any jargon knowledge.
Empi (Top Rated Unit in Its Class)
When it comes to treating pain with TENS Units, Empi is best in class. The Empi Select Pain Management System delivers unparalleled pain relief. It comes with two leads and four electrodes.
The Empi is most often prescribed by sports medicine physicians and physical therapists and is best suited for people who have acute pain that they haven't been able to address with any other course of treatment.
Whether you have severe pain, sore or tight muscles, or joint or tendon pain, the Empi will provide quick and effective relief.
It's in the higher price bracket than other models, but its loyal fan base, physician's choice, and consistent success ratings suggest it's worth the extra cost.
TENS and EMS devices have been used by doctors, chiropractors, and physical and massage therapist doctors for many years, and there's a reason. They're highly effective for relieving pain that's otherwise hard to manage or conquer.
Now that there are so many great portable home devices to choose from, it's a relief knowing you can have access to the same technology the professionals use, for minimal cost, and no prescription.
An EMS Tens unit is accessible and well within reach.
They run the gamut from simple to complex and are available in a range of prices. Even producers of over the counter pain relief medications have TENS devices available.
You can get an Aleve Direct Therapy or an Icy Hot TENS device at a competitive price. They deliver excellent relief from all manner of acute pain. Hope you enjoyed our tens unit review, please leave a comment if you have any questions or things to add.