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Pain can be the bane of your life. For some people, it may only be mild but when it becomes severe, it can be debilitating. Not being able to get on with your day-to-day activities can have a potential impact on your mental health so targeting the pain before it gets too bad is the best thing to do.
TENS therapy is a great way to manage pain without medication from the comfort of your own home.
TENS Unit Comparison Chart
iReliev TENS Massager Unit
AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit
iReliev Wireless TENS + EMS
Number of Pads
8 x (2″ x 2″)
4 x (2" x 2"), 4 x (2" x 4")
2 x (3" x 5")
8 TENS modes, 6 EMS modes
3 x AAA
Rechargeable lithium battery
Rechargeable lithium ion battery
What is TENS Therapy?
Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, for short, is a form of non-medicinal pain relief. The therapy is administered using a special machine that uses an electrical current. This form of pain relief can be extremely useful for those who suffer from joint and muscle problems and is considered to be very effective because of how it works.
TENS therapy sends small electrical signals directly to the area where the pain is occurring. When we experience pain, natural electrical signals are sent to the brain. This results in us feeling a sensation. In the simplest term, the feeling of pain is a primal way that our bodies let us know that something isn’t right.
When the TENS machine’s electrical signals reach the point of pain, this interferes with our natural electric signals, therefore, blocking them from reaching the brain and reducing the pain we feel. In addition to this, the muscles will relax and since this is often a cause of pain, the reduction in tension will reduce discomfort.
There is also the benefit of the release of endorphins. These hormones are considered to be our natural painkiller and the TENS electrical impulses can encourage their production.
What Type of Pain Can a TENS Unit Treat?
One of the greatest things about a TENS unit is that it is able to treat a versatile number of conditions. For seniors who are living with several different types of pain, this may be a viable solution.
- TENS is often used to treat arthritis which is a common condition for many people in their later years. Studies have shown a reduction in pain for patients with osteoarthritis and this may limit the need for medications.
- For those suffering from chronic pain, TENS is thought to have a positive effect and there have been several studies to back this up. The Nursing Times states that ‘there was a positive analgesic outcome in favor of TENS treatments’ when referring to chronic pain.
- According to the NHS, TENS treatment can be effective for various types of pain around the body, notable neck pain, knee pain, and back pain. It may also be effective for sports injuries.
- There has been evidence to suggest that TENS may also be useful for those who are treating wounds such as ulcers. Not only may it relieve pain, but the treatment has also been shown to effectively decrease the overall healing time.
- TENS is often used to soothe menstrual cramping.
Is TENS Treatment Suitable for Everyone?
While TENS treatment is effective for many things, there are some patients who may find that TENS therapy is not suitable for them.
- Patients who have a pacemaker fitted should avoid TENS therapy. However, there are some circumstances where sporadic TENS treatment may be administered in a carefully controlled environment. But generally speaking, pacemaker patients are not recommended for this treatment.
- Similarly, pregnant women should be mindful of using TENS therapy and it should never be used as the first line of treatment. There is some suggestion that applying the electrical current around the trunk can be detrimental. That being said, some ladies will opt for TENS pain relief during labor.
- Certain skin conditions may limit where the pads can be placed. Those with irritations such as eczema may find that the TENS pads can cause further skin disruption and should be mindful of this.
- Those with epilepsy should only ever use TENS therapy under the supervision of a trained therapist. Furthermore, application around the neck and thoracic area could be dangerous.
How to Use a TENS Unit Safely?
Anything that uses an electrical current has the potential to be dangerous. Even if you have no health complications that limit whether you can use a TENS unit, you should still be mindful of safe operation.
One of the major considerations when using your TENS unit is the placement of the pads. There are some areas of the body that the pads should never be applied to. These include:
- The front of the neck
- The sides of the neck
- The eyes
- The mouth
- Where there are varicose veins
- Areas with loss of sensation
Furthermore, if you need to treat the chest and the back, this should never be simultaneous. Each area should be treated one after the other. You should also make sure that the machine is not switched on when applying the pads.
Once the pads are correctly placed, you can turn the machine on. However, for your own safety, you should never begin at full power. You should always start at the lowest setting and increase this gradually until the tingling feels appropriate but not painful.
The pain relief you get from a TENS unit can be very significant and this can make it tempting to overuse the machine. However, it is important to ensure that your sessions do not last longer than 30 minutes. You can do the treatment up to four times a day as needed.
A few other important safety points to keep in mind are as follow:
- TENS should never be used in water, for example, in the bath or shower.
- You should not use TENS while you are driving
- You should not use TENS while you are sleeping.
- TENS should not be used with heat or cold pads.
Differences Between an EMS & a TENS Unit?
A similar type of therapy to TENS is known as EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) and while the two do have things in common. They are used for different purposes.
TENS is a treatment that targets the nerves and helps to block pain signals to the brain. On the other hand, EMS targets the muscles. This system is typically used for patients whose muscles need to be strengthened during rehabilitation, perhaps after an accident or because of an illness that has weakened them. EMS is also very good for muscle spasms and poor circulation whereas TENS can help with pain and inflammation.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing a TENS Unit
We are fortunate enough to have a huge choice when it comes to TENS machines. But it is important to consider various factors before making a purchase. This is vital to ensure that you get a unit that will meet your needs and be safe to use. Here are some factors you will want to consider:
The FDA approves medications and products that are known to provide benefits. Not only will this give you the peace of mind that the device will be effective, but it will also reassure you that it offers safe operation.
If the unit also boasts an EMS feature then it is even more important that the device has been FDA approved since this type of therapy is normally done under the observation of a physical therapist.
Programs & Therapy Modes
These devices will typically come as either a TENS-only machine or a TENS and EMS system. The latter is better for people who need both pain relief with the addition of muscle strengthening. However, since EMS is normally prescribed by a therapist, you should carefully follow your therapist’s advice when administering this type of treatment.
You will also notice that your TENS machine may come with a variety of preset programs. These will have varying pulse durations and run for different lengths of time. They may also have varying degrees of intensity.
Normally, the more preset programs that a TENS unit comes with, the more expensive it will be. For patients with more complex needs, versatility is an important feature.
When you are looking at a TENS machine, it is important to check out how many channels there are. The channel refers to the number of electrodes that the machine can handle. Each channel allows for two electrodes.
Depending on the size of the area you wish to treat and how many locations around the body you need to treat at any given time will determine the correct number of channels. Normally, this information will be given as either a single channel, dual-channel, or quad channel. Most machines have dual channels, allowing you to use four electrodes and this is typically ideal for most users.
TENS units that have more than 80mA are normally only available with a prescription. Each unit will vary in its intensity and your level of pain will determine what is right for you. However, it is important to keep in mind that higher intensity machines can cause pain for users and while you should feel a tingling sensation, this should never be painful.
In addition to this, it can be useful to look at the pulse duration. While the intensity will deliver varying levels of tingling, the pulse length can often be altered. If you are using one of the preset programs, this will be done for you but when you are creating a custom therapy session, it is nice to be able to adjust more than just the intensity.
It is a good idea not to overuse your TENS machine and for this reason, most devices come with a built-in timer. Once the time has elapsed, the machine will automatically shut off. However, in some cases, you are not able to choose the duration of the timer so if this is a feature you want, you may need to search for a TENS unit that is capable of this.
Your TENS machine will have a display screen and this should be clear and easy to understand. Some units come with a compatible smartphone app and will connect via BlueTooth, this is particularly useful for people who are using the TENS machine in a tricky location and need easier access to the controls.
Most modern TENS units are wireless although there is the option to purchase a wired machine if you prefer. The advantage of this is that you get continued power and won’t be reliant on a battery. However, you may be limited as to where you can operate the machine.
If you are using a wireless TENS machine, you should think about the battery. Does it have a long enough running time? How quickly does it charge? Does the machine come with more than one battery so you can use one while the other is charging?
A wireless TENS unit is also extremely useful for people who are on the go. There are compact units that can be worn while you are working or getting on with your daily chores. These are lightweight and especially good for travel.
Best TENS Units for Pain Relief
1. iReliev TENS Massager Unit
If you are looking for a TENS machine that offers you a diverse range of programs, then this is a very good option. It comes with eight preset programs that are designed to target different types of pain. For example, there is a program for chronic pain and one aimed specifically at arthritis.
There are 25 levels of intensity up to 80mA making this a very versatile machine and with an adjustable timer of up to 60 minutes, you can create a therapy program that is uniquely tailored to your needs.
The screen is incredibly clear and easy to understand, and one of the best things about this device is how compact it is. The small device is no larger than a credit card so is great for people who travel regularly. It can also be easily and conveniently stored away when not in use.
With dual channels and an FDA approval, you can feel confident that this is an effective and efficient TENS machine. The device runs on three AAA batteries which are included with your purchase and you also get some nice other extras including a handy carry case and a belt holster.
- Intensity level: 25
- Number of pads: 8 x (2″ x 2″)
- Programs: 8
- Channels: Dual channel
- Battery type: 3 x AAA
2. AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit
If you suffer from one point of pain from one condition then you may not need something that is incredibly versatile. However, for patients who have multiple points of pain around the body at varying intensities, a TENS machine needs to be able to tackle all of these.
The AUVON dual channel TENS unit comes with an impressive 20 preset programs including Shiatsu massage, hammering, and kneading, amongst others. But what is most interesting is that each channel can run independently. Therefore, if you require one type of massage on your leg and wish to use the second channel on your back, you have the option to use two presets at once.
There are also 20 levels of intensity, giving you the option to tailor the treatment to suit your needs. What’s more, the system runs on a rechargeable battery that makes use of a USB charger for convenience. Once fully charged, the unit will operate for up to 10 hours so you don’t need to worry that your sessions will be cut short.
- Intensity level: 20
- Number of pads: 4 x (2″ x 2″), 4 x (2″ x 4″)
- Programs: 20
- Channels: Dual channel
- Battery type: Rechargeable lithium battery
3. iReliev Wireless TENS + EMS
Patients who require EMS to complement their TENS therapy will likely find that this dual unit offers the best of both worlds. This is a wireless unit that has been FDA cleared and offers versatile use that is ideal for targeting several differing types of pain.
The device comes with a total of 8 preset TENS programs that are designed for pain relief and some are specifically designed to target arthritis. In addition to this, you also get six programs for EMS. These are extremely versatile and include strengthening, endurance, and recovery which is great for people who practice sports and may have sustained an injury.
Alongside these preset programs, there are 25 levels of intensity to choose from so users can create a program that is unique to their pain needs.
The unit comes with two pods, which are placed on the body and each of these is capable of running up to four programs. However, if you need something a little more then it is possible to purchase additional pods. The battery run time on this TENS unit is very generous with up to five hours.
There is an adjustable timer that delivers up to 60 minutes of treatment time and the unit features a handy lock feature to prevent injuries. This is a beautifully easy to use system that features a backlit screen for easier viewing and a simple display.
- Intensity level: 25
- Number of pads: 2 x (3″ x 5″)
- Programs: 8 TENS modes, 6 EMS modes
- Channels: Quad channel
- Battery type: Rechargeable lithium ion battery