What are the Best TENS Unit in 2020?

It’s a sad fact of life that many people live with pain on a regular basis. Sometimes it comes and goes; in other cases it’s there all the time.

And the worst thing about pain is it can badly affect your mood. Even suffering an acute injury which causes pain that lasts for a few days or weeks can make us feel grumpy, fed up, anxious or depressed.

Thanks to the wonderful world of medicine, we have access to lots of different ways of managing pain. Many first line treatments involve medication, but for those needing pain relief on a longer basis, drugs can cause harmful side effects.

Various other treatment modalities, such as acupuncture and electrotherapy have been medically proven to help effectively manage pain, but many of these require expert administration.

One method of electrotherapy, however, can be administered by the patient at home, and treatment can even take place during activities. TENS units are extremely useful devices for many people for a whole bunch of different reasons.

So let’s talk TENS to find out what they’re all about, how they work, and see if we can find the best TENS unit out there!

Product
Details
Our Rating
Our #1 Rated
Touch Screen Tens Unit

MiroPure

Touch Screen Tens Unit

5 out of 5

In the TENS Unit category

Click for price
  • 2 CHANNELS / 8 Reusable Premium Pads - each channel's intensity can be controlled separately, you can share one of the two...
  • Large HD Digital Display Touch Screen: Large size and super-high-definition LCD screen make the tens easier to read and...
  • Easy to use: with back clip design, the rechargeable tens unit is best for pain relief, relaxation, reflexology and...
HealthAmbition Stamp

Our #1 Rated

5 out of 5

In the TENS Unit category


Our #2 Rated
Tens Unit

TechCare Massager

Tens Unit

4 out of 5

In the TENS Unit category

Click for price
  • WHAT IS TECHCARE MASSAGER : It is a combination of TENS and PMS device. TechCare Massagers delivers low-voltage pulses to the...
  • FEATURES : 24 preprogramed massage modes includes stimulation of Tapping, Acupuncture, Deep Tissue, Foot, Cupping, Combo....
  • WHAT IS INCLUDED ? : 1x 2019 Newest Model Controller, 6 Large Hand Shaped Electrodes ( Pads ), 2 Large Rectangular Electrode,...
HealthAmbition Stamp

Our #2 Rated

4 out of 5

In the TENS Unit category


Our #3 Rated
TENS Unit

iStim

TENS Unit

4 out of 5

In the TENS Unit category

Click for price
  • TENS: "Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation"- a safe, non-invasive, drug free method of pain relief used by Physical...
  • iSTIM EV-820: Digital TENS stimulator device comes with 2 channels, 5 TENS modes and 12 preset programs, sending comfortable...
  • Japanese electrode pads: High-grade, and biocompatible SEKISUI Japanese gel, which facilitates efficient conducting of the...
HealthAmbition Stamp

Our #3 Rated

4 out of 5

In the TENS Unit category



What Is a TENS Unit?

TENS is an acronym for trans-electrical nerve stimulation. They normally consist of a battery operated control unit, and wires which connect electrodes to the base unit. They can be self-administered and monitored, and most have a clip so they can be fastened to a belt or waistband and worn during activity.

The wires usually end in self-adhesive gel pads. To operate a TENS unit, the two pads belonging to the same channel are placed on the skin either side of the site of pain at a certain distance apart.

The wires are plugged into the machine, which is set at a particular electrical wave frequency. The machine delivers an electrical current via the gel pads to the skin. The user can adjust the intensity of the electrical waves so that the sensation is felt either more strongly or weakly.

Most modern TENS machines feature dual channels. This means that two sets of pads can be used at one time, either on separate areas of pain or in close proximity to each other to treat widespread single site pain.

This video is a typical example of how TENS can be set up:

What Does a TENS Unit Do?

To understand how TENS units work, we first need to delve into a little pain physiology to see how pain works. Our bodies have a specific pain mechanism in the nervous system called the pain pathway.

Let’s step on a nail and see what happens…

How Pain Works

Tissue damage, or the threat of it happening, stimulates pain receptors in the skin. It sends a distress signal up the pain pathway to specific points called gateways.

According to the pain gate theory, one or two of these distress signals are not enough on their own to open a gate—there’s a critical number of signals needed at each gateway. That critical number can change according to our circumstances.

If after being injured we still need to remove ourselves from danger, research suggests the body increases the number of signals it takes to open the gates, increasing the level of pain we’re able to tolerate.

If enough similar distress signals are sent at the same time, the gate will open to let the signal through. It continues up to the brain, where various different structures are involved in split second decisions to manage the problem.

TENS Scrambles the Nerve Signals…And More…

One way in which scientists suggest TENS works is by interfering with the transmission of the distress signals, in effect scrambling them so that that the signals don’t open the gate.

There are lots of different theories about pain, and some scientists spend their whole careers exploring and researching pain. What we do know is there are different types of fibers which carry pain signals.

A delta fibers are the ones that send the sharp pricking pain signals, which travel very quickly—these nerve fibers are coated in a myelin sheath which insulates and speeds up nerve transmission.

C fibers are the nerve fibers that transmit the dull throbbing pains and nagging aches we sometimes feel. These are transmitted more slowly than the sharp, acute pain signals in the A delta nerve fibers.

TENS machines work by sending waves, or pulses, of electrical signals through the cutaneous layers of the skin to the nerve. This not only blocks the alarm signals, it’s also thought to stimulate the production of our natural pain relief, such as endorphins and enkephalins, which helps to reduce pain.

It’s All In the Settings

Knowing how to use a TENS unit correctly can make the difference between success and failure of treatment.

There are two main variables with a TENS machine. One is the frequency of the pulses—how many are generated each minute. The frequency of electrical pulses is measured in Hertz (Hz). To affect pain signals, the TENS pulses have to be sent at roughly the same frequency.

Acute pain from the A delta fibers have a frequency of between 80 and 120 Hz. Chronic pain from the C fibers have a much lower frequency of between 2 and 10 Hz. Pulses in this lower frequency band also stimulate the release of the natural painkillers.

The other key variable is the pulse width—the length of time of each individual pulse—which is measured in microseconds (uS). Most usually, the optimal pulse width setting for pain relief is between 175 and 200 uS.

Once these settings have been determined, the TENS unit becomes active and the user turns up the volume of the signal according to their personal tolerance.

So for best effect, you need to set your TENS unit up according to your specific symptoms and type of pain. When the correct settings are used, TENS has been shown to be highly effective at reducing perceived pain.

Who Needs a TENS Unit?

Most often, TENS is used for pain control in a variety of situations and medical conditions. It’s best suited to chronic pain, or pain for which the cause has been professionally diagnosed, and it has been decided that TENS is an appropriate part of a treatment plan.

These are the types of pain TENS treatment is commonly used for:

  • Headaches and migraines.
  • Stress.
  • Tension.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Arthritis.
  • Sciatica.
  • Low back pain.
  • Bursitis.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Inflammation.
  • PMS.

TENS units can also be used to help to control labor pains during childbirth, but this should only be done under strict medical supervision. Some TENS units can be used to generate an electrical signal at settings that cause muscle contraction—like an electrical muscle stimulator (EMS).

What Does It Feel Like?

Electrical nerve stimulation sounds pretty reminiscent of electric shock treatment, but the reality is far from this—I promise! There’s a certain sensation generated by a TENS unit, but it’s not altogether unpleasant.

The actual sensation varies from person to person, and it depends which setting and intensity the machine is used on. Most people usually report sensations ranging from a prickly kind of pins and needles feeling, to a dull, rhythmic thudding sensation.

Precautions for Use

As with all electrical equipment, safety precautions are always necessary. Here are some general safety tips when using a TENS unit:

  • Never place the electrical unit near any water.
  • Don’t share your electrode pads with anyone else. The pads and leads can be cleaned and used for more than one person, but they should each have their own set of electrode pads.
  • If the electrode pads dry out, they can be refreshed with ultrasound or other water-based gel.
  • Don’t use TENS or EMS on the same muscle group for more than one continuous hour.
  • Never place the electrode pads on the eyes, the front of your neck, near a pacemaker or sandwiching your rib cage, directly on the spinal column, on broken or numb skin, near the site of a tumor or internally.

What Is the Best TENS Unit?

There’s a massive range of different TENS units available on the market. Some are more high-tech and offer more programs; others are very straightforward and simple to use, and the cost of TENS units can vary dramatically.

After some pretty intense research, here are five tried and tested TENS units, with all their good and bad points laid bare for your inspection.

Our #1 Rated
Our pick our #1 rated

MiroPure

Touch Screen Tens Unit

  • Quality
    Quality

  • Quality
    Price

  • Quality
    Our rating

This TENS unit was very popular with users, who really liked the slim, compact and lightweight design—it’s around the size of an iPhone. Most people found the unit easy to operate, but no thanks to the instructions in the tiniest possible font!

Other than that, there were some complaints due to faulty units, but people had no problem getting a replacement or refund where necessary—several people commented on the great customer service. Users were generally very impressed with the effectiveness of this machine and the extremely reasonable price.

Pros
Pro Weight: 4.8 ounces.
Pro FDA approved.
Pro CE certified.
Pro Dual independent channels.
Pro 20 levels of intensity.
Pro 12 operation modes.
Pro Rechargeable lithium battery.
Pro Low battery indicator.
Pro USB chargeable.
Pro Large LCD touchscreen display.
Pro Six timer settings.
Pro Compact.
Pro Lightweight.
Pro 2-year warranty.
Cons
Con A few units developed technical faults.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Our #2 Rated
Our pick our #2 rated

TechCare Massager

Tens Unit

  • Quality
    Quality

  • Quality
    Price

  • Quality
    Our rating

The majority of people really liked this TENS unit, which most users found easy to use and compact enough to use on the move, despite not being the lightest of machines.

Even people who’ve owned a number of different TENS machines thought this was a great little unit. Users were generally very impressed with the effects of this machine, most finding it extremely effective for controlling pain.

Some users received faulty machines, or didn’t receive all of the accessories, but on the whole people thought this product was great value for money, with performance being comparable to much more expensive devices.

Pros
Pro Weight: 13 ounces.
Pro FDA approved.
Pro Dual independent channels.
Pro Six different modes.
Pro 24 preset modes.
Pro Adjustable timer from 10 to 60 minutes.
Pro Rechargeable lithium battery.
Pro Approx. 20-hour battery life.
Pro Low battery indicator.
Pro Large LCD display.
Pro Compact.
Pro 30-day money back guarantee.
Pro Limited lifetime warranty.
Cons
Con Some people received faulty units or incomplete orders.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Our #3 Rated
Our pick our #3 rated

iStim

TENS Unit

  • Quality
    Quality

  • Quality
    Price

  • Quality
    Our rating

This no-frills TENS machine impressed users with its compact size and ease of use. It features dials to adjust the intensity and frequency of the electrical signals, which gives the user complete control, and the convenient flip top cover means the dials can’t be changed by accident when the machine is in operation.

Many users commented that this was a pretty standard TENS unit with all the basic features required of any machine—no touchscreen feature here. It might not have all the bells and whistles of other units, but the majority of people thought it did the job very well for an excellent price—it was the least expensive unit reviewed.

Pros
Pro Weight: 5.3 ounces.
Pro FDA approved.
Pro Dual independent channels.
Pro Six different modes.
Pro 12 preset programs.
Pro Adjustable timer from 1 to 60 minutes.
Pro Runs on 9V battery.
Pro Low battery indicator.
Pro Clear LCD display.
Pro Compact.
Pro Lightweight.
Pro Stainless steel belt clip.
Pro Flip top cover.
Pro Excellent price.
Pro 1-year warranty.
Cons
Con Basic, no-frills model.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Our Choice

At first glance, TENS units all do a fairly similar job. There are, however, small differences between the various models which make them more appealing to users. Of those reviewed, the overall best TENS unit was the MiroPure Touch Screen Tens Unit. This model stood out for various reasons.

People almost universally commented on the compact and extremely lightweight design—the lightest of all the machines, which made this unit highly portable. Users liked the huge variety of different settings and many found the touchscreen display clear and easy to use.

The dual channels and timer settings were great for treating different areas simultaneously, and people were very impressed with the amount of pain control achieved. A great little device at an extremely reasonable price and with a generous guarantee makes this the best TENS unit we could find!

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