5 Best Tens Units According to Someone with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (2022)

5 Best Tens Units According to Someone with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (1)Share on Pinterest

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TENS stands for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.” You attach the electrodes around or on top of a painful area of your body, then turn on the device, which emits electrical stimulation into your body.

TENS units are small, often battery-powered devices that you attach to your skin with sticky cutaneous electrodes. Most TENS units have multiple intensity settings, so you can get it just right for your preference.

  • Best splurge: HiDow XPD TENS Unit
  • Best for budget: Tenker TMS TENS Unit
  • Best for lower back: WiTouch Pro Bluetooth TENS Unit
  • Best on-the-go: Omron Pocket Pain Pro TENS Unit
  • Best for menstrual cramps: Ovira Noha TENS Unit

TENS units are commonly used in chronic pain management because electrical stimulation has been found to have analgesic effects. This pain can have various causes, including arthritis, connective tissue disorders, old injuries, and diabetic neuropathy. TENS treatment and similar therapies have become popular because it’s an affordable, low-risk pain management strategy.

How do TENS units work?

There are two main theories about how TENS therapy works to relieve pain:

  1. The first is that the nerves are stimulated by the electrical current, which blocks or “cancels out” the transmission of pain signals from your brain.
  2. The other is that the stimulation releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.

Placebo effect is also an important variable, where believing in the effectiveness of a treatment has an impact on what it does for that person. Some pain management treatments studied for fibromyalgia, for example, are as effective or not more effective than the placebo or “sham treatment” given as a comparison.

A 2014 scientific review of current TENS research found that more research needs to be done to figure out whether TENS can help improve activity levels, quality of life, and mobility. This overview found that TENS has been shown to reduce overall pain levels in chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.

The units featured below have high reviews and come from trusted brands. We cross-referenced reports to organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure each company does not have recalls, lawsuits, or abysmal ratings. Where applicable, I included my own experience using TENS units.

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A note on editorial testing

Sifting through product descriptions and customer reviews can be overwhelming. We’re here to make researching products easier.

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For this review, our writer relied on her personal experience with TENS units and cross-referenced online customer feedback.

Best splurge TENS device

HiDow XPD TENS Unit

Price: $$$

If you already know TENS units work for you—or if money is no object—this high-end HiDow TENS unit is a great option. With touchscreen controls, this unit boasts 20 adjustable intensity levels and 12 pre-programmed massage modes. The built-in lithium ion battery is easy to recharge via USB, and the small size (3 ⅜” x 2”) means it fits easily in your pocket.

HiDow claims to be the first company to combine TENS therapy and EMS therapy in the same unit. EMS stands for “electrical muscle stimulation,” and stimulates muscles (instead of just nerves like TENS), which can help heal and prevent muscular injuries. Each HiDow unit comes with a two year warranty, with an optional lifetime warranty available at an extra cost.

Considerations: This is a highly reviewed product with lots of options and a good warranty, but doesn’t seem to offer a whole lot more than basic and cheaper models. Probably not the best choice for newbies or those working with a small budget.

Best for budget

Tenker TMS TENS Unit

Price: $

Don’t let the low price fool you—this TENS unit has lots of bells and whistles. With 24 pre-programmed massage modes, 20 intensity levels, and a timer that goes from 10-60 minutes, you’ve got a ton of options. The built-in lithium ion battery lasts up to 10 hours and is rechargeable via the included USB cable.

This dual channel unit lets you use 4 pads at a time. You get 8 electrode pads in three different shapes and sizes, so you can find the best one for your use.

The device is smaller than most modern smartphones and fits easily in your pocket.

Considerations: Though it’s small and portable, it can be a little annoying having wires running from your pocket to your skin. These wires mean this unit can not be used discreetly as the wires will likely show.

Best TENS unit for lower back

WiTouch Pro Bluetooth TENS Unit

Price: $$

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I picked this one because it’s the upgraded version of a low-back TENS unit formerly made by Aleve. I loved my Aleve TENS unit (which I lost in a move), and am happy to see a newer version now exists. The best feature of this product is there are no wires. It sticks directly on your lower back and is controlled with a separate remote. You can stick it on your back and go about your day without anyone knowing you’re wearing a medical device. You can place it anywhere along your spine, so it works for any type of back pain. Weighing just 4.8 ounces, this TENS unit features 15 intensity levels and 4 preset treatment programs.

Considerations: This unit takes 2 AAA batteries, which must be changed using a tiny included screwdriver. This might be difficult for those with arthritis in their hands or other issues with fine motor skills.

Best on-the-go

Omron Pocket Pain Pro TENS Unit

Price: $

Three preset programs for different body pains (arm/shoulder, lower back, leg/foot), two massage-like modes (knead & steady), each with 10 levels of intensity so you can customize to your comfort level. Includes sticky electric pads that last up to 150 uses, and can be stored in the included plastic case. This unit is sm

Considerations: Though this is highly reviewed, a few reviewers do mention that it’s not that powerful and that replacement pads are often out of stock. This is a good introductory option to TENS units, but if you’re used to more heavy-duty ones, this is not the choice for you.

Best for menstrual cramps

Ovira Noha

Price: $$$

Designed to be discreet, this specialized TENS unit is specifically for period pain. You attach the included electrode pads to your lower belly or lower back, where the electric stimulation will theoretically reduce your menstrual pain. Another bonus is it’s USB-powered, meaning you don’t have to deal with replacing batteries. The remote is simple: Turn it on or off, turn the intensity up or down. Store your Ovira in the included storage bag and keep the pads sticky by stashing them in the included storage disc.

Considerations: This is considerably pricier than other TENS units, but they do offer “Painless Returns” for 100 days after purchase. Keep in mind that regular TENS units may work just as well as this one for cramps, but you never know until you try. The gel pad refills are a whopping $35 for a three month supply, which is more than many other products.

  • Pick a budget. How much money are you willing or able to spend on a TENS unit? Customize your searches to this price range so you’re not tempted to overspend.
  • Think about why you’re considering a TENS unit. What do you want from a TENS unit? Is it for all-over pain relief or for specific issues like low back pain or menstrual cramps? Look for “dual channel” for TENS units that have 4 pads if you’re looking to focus on a specific point or area of your body.
  • Check the manufacturer’s website. Though places like Amazon and Target offer many TENS units for good prices, you might get better service buying directly from the company that makes the unit. This way, you can ask questions via email or chat, read more product details, and make sure your warranty is in order.
  • Ask a health professional. Ask a doctor who understands your medical history if TENS units are safe for you, particularly if you have conditions like diabetes, neuropathy, or Cerebral Palsy. General physicians, physical therapists, and some practitioners such as occupational therapists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists who are familiar with TENS therapy may be able to answer other questions.
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Remember that it shouldn’t feel painful or uncomfortable when using the TENS unit and remember that trial-and-error is okay to find what works for you on any given day.

Here are frequently asked questions about TENS therapy.

How often can I use TENS therapy?

Start with 15 to 20 minutes once a day and slowly work your way up. You can space this time out over 2 to 3 sessions in a day. Do not use for more than an hour total each day.

How long is it okay to use it at a time?

Many devices have a pre-set timer, typically 20-30 minutes. Most have a 60-minute, or one hour, maximum. If TENS is relieving your pain, it might be tempting to use it for hours a day — resist this urge. Less is more with this therapy. If you overdo it, you risk sensitizing your nerves and making your pain worse.

Can I use a TENS unit on my spine and neck?

No. Take care to never place the electrode pads directly on your spine. You can place the pads on either side of your spine, where the stimulation will still reach your pain, without risking spinal injury or irritation.

Where is it not okay to use a TENS unit?

Along with not putting the electrodes directly on your spine, do not use TENS on:

  • your face
  • your genitals
  • areas recently treated with radiation
  • infected tissue
  • damaged skin
  • open wounds
  • or areas with reduced or nonexistent sensation

Where on my body can I use TENS?

Try it on either side of your spine on your lower back, on your shoulders, your knees, or your hips if these areas could use a little pain relief.

Takeaway

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If you’ve got chronic pain, you are living in the best day and age to treat it. Pain relief therapies, devices, and techniques are more widely available and more affordable than ever before. TENS therapy is a low-risk, relatively low-cost option for many many people managing joint and muscle pain. Remember to ask your doctor about any concerns, and take your time choosing your TENS unit so you get the right one for you.

Whatever or however you end up stimulating your nerves and/or muscles, I hope it brings you great relief. Feel better!

Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. Learn more about her on her website.

FAQs

What is the difference between TENS and EMS? ›

The main difference

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machines stimulate the nerves exclusively for the purpose of relieving pain, whereas Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) machines are designed to stimulate the muscles for the purposes of strengthening and rehabilitating them.

Does a TENS unit promote healing? ›

It is suggested that TENS stimulates skin wound healing and tendon repair, as well as the viability of random skin flaps. Such effects may be due to the release of SP and CGRP, which would increase blood flow and, consequently, hasten the events of tissue repair.

How high should I set my TENS unit? ›

Acute pain is usually most effective between 80 and 120 Hz. Chronic pain can also benefit from lower settings 2 to 10Hz that stimulates an endorphin release. A setting between 35 and 50Hz is commonly used to stimulate muscles for strengthening or even relaxation.

Is NMES the same as TENS? ›

Today, these devices have found more uses within the medical field. While they are similar to TENS units in that they are both externally applied devices, NMES units emit a stronger and wider electrical pulse. The NMES pulse stimulates targeted muscles to contract repeatedly over a specific period of time.

Is there something better than a TENS unit? ›

EMS uses a slightly stronger current than TENS to get muscles to contract. The unit's electrodes (also placed on the skin near the affected muscles) cause rhythmic contractions. This can improve muscle strength if the user attempts to contract the muscle simultaneously.

Do chiropractors use TENS or EMS? ›

There are two types of electrical stimulation therapies used in chiropractic care to treat pain conditions affecting your nerves or your muscles – transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS).

Should muscles twitch when using TENS? ›

You may feel tingling, tapping, buzzing, or muscle twitching. You may also notice the TENS feels stronger or weaker at times. You may become used to the feeling and can turn up the intensity as you wear it longer.

Can a TENS unit affect your heart? ›

The same TENS stimulation had no effect on coronary blood flow of patients with heart transplants. They concluded that TENS may have an effect on the heart through changes in neural tone because, in the heart transplant group, the heart has already been innervated and coronary blood flow had not changed7).

Do TENS units reduce inflammation? ›

Thankfully the TENS unit can help with Inflammation as well. Numerous studies have discovered that the electric impulses can reduce inflammation located deep within the muscle fibers.

Where should you not place a TENS unit? ›

Never place the pads over:
  1. the front or sides of your neck.
  2. your temples.
  3. your mouth or eyes.
  4. your chest and upper back at the same time.
  5. irritated, infected or broken skin.
  6. varicose veins.
  7. numb areas.

Can I put my TENS unit on my neck? ›

You should place the TENS pads on the back of your neck, at least an inch apart. If your unit has two channels, you can place four pads. If that is the case, put two of the pads on the back of the neck and the other two on top of your shoulder blades.

Can I use a TENS unit on my stomach? ›

Can I Use a TENS Unit to Work My Abdominals? The quick answer is no, TENS will not effectively work your abdominals. TENS, or Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation, is a form of electrical stimulation that helps to control pain by blocking the nerve fibers that carry pain information to the brain.

What are the three types of TENS? ›

Table 1.
  • Conventional TENS (low-intensity, high-frequency)
  • Acupuncture-like TENS (high-intensity, low-frequency)
  • Intense TENS (high-intensity, high-frequency)

Can a TENS unit repair nerve damage? ›

Conclusions: Although there is some heterogeneous evidence in animal research, TENS seems to be a promising treatment for nerve injury that should be better explored.

Can electrical stimulation cause nerve damage? ›

Generally, greater intensity, higher frequency, and longer pulse width stimulation lead to more severe damage in nerve cells (McCreery et al., 2004). In addition, although short-term electrical stimulation is not damaging to nervous tissue, chronic electrical stimulation can damage nerve structure.

How much does a medical grade TENS unit cost? ›

How Much Does a TENS Unit Cost? A TENS device is available online and can be used at home. It's not typically covered by insurance, but you also don't need a prescription for one. A TENS unit is a $30 to $100 expense.

Can I use a TENS unit on my face? ›

It's important to note that there are also a number of different places on your body that you shouldn't place electrodes. For example, it's not recommended that TENS pads are placed on any part of your head, face or throat.

Are TENS and EMS pads the same? ›

TENS and EMS units are both e-stim devices, but they don't work in the same way. The function of a TENS unit is to stimulate the sensory nerve endings. The rationale being that this stimulation keeps pain signals from reaching the brain. EMS machines cause muscles to contract, rather than impacting on pain signals.

How long should you keep a TENS unit on? ›

TENS stimulation should last for only 30 minutes at a time.

After this, a 20-minute break is advised to give your skin a break for potential skin irritation from using TENS in one area on the skin for too long.

Does a TENS unit help with bone pain? ›

They found that pain decreased for those who used active TENS, and that pain when moving improved more than pain at rest. The research team concluded that TENS could be useful to help with bone pain.

How long should you use electrical muscle stimulation? ›

Depending on the type of e-stim, you may feel a muscle twitch or contract repeatedly. Each e-stim therapy session may last 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the condition being treated.

Why am I sore after using a TENS unit? ›

Other side effects from a TENS unit are often down to people not following the guidance and overusing the device or having the intensity set too high. Using the machine too much can make the area being treated sore. While using excessive intensity can make muscles twitch and result in unpleasant sensations.

What happens if you put a TENS unit on your head? ›

Do not apply electrodes to your head, neck or shoulders. The impulses could cause seizures. Deep vein thrombosis or thrombophlebitis. Do not use TENS therapy as it may increase blood circulation, which may increase the risk of dislodging a blood clot.

How often can you use a TENS unit in one day? ›

You can begin with one 15-minute therapy session. Repeat for another 15 minutes if needed. Use up to three times per day at a maximum. During each therapy, rate your pain before and after the session, 1 (low) to 10 (high) in order to gauge the true reduction of pain.

Can a TENS unit raise your blood pressure? ›

TENS produced no significant effect on BP, regardless of intensity. Discussion: These results affirm that high levels of intensity are of fundamental importance in effective TENS dosage. This also applies for low frequency, segmental stimulation. Resting BP seems not to be dependent on intensity.

Who should not use EMS? ›

WB-EMS is contraindicated in patients with implanted electronic devices such as pacemakers, implanted defibrillators, neuro-stimulators or pain pumps because of potential electrical interference. There are various diseases or conditions mentioned as exclusion criteria, as listed in table 4.

Can TENS machines make pain worse? ›

After a few minutes the sensation will start to drop away slightly. This is called accommodation. When this happens, turn the machine up slightly and then leave it for the rest of the time in use. Do not turn it up too high, as this can cause over-stimulation which may make pain worse.

Can TENS unit help with weight loss? ›

A TENS machine alone will not result in weight loss. TENS focuses on the nerves and the sensory aspect of our bodies, like reducing labour pain. However, a TENS machine for weight loss can work if it has EMS functions and if it is used simultaneously with exercise.

Why do TENS units feel good? ›

Electrical impulses are thought to stimulate the production of endorphins. This short film from neurotech explains how the process works: Research shows how important endorphins are in pain management, which is one of the reasons why TENS is thought to be such an effective form of relief.

How long does TENS pain relief last? ›

Length of pain relief

The post-stimulation analgesic effects of TENS can therefore last anywhere from five minutes to 18 hours (Woolf, 1991).

What does EMS do for muscles? ›

EMS therapy creates steady electric impulses that stimulate muscle contractions--many of them over a sustained therapy session. This repetitive contracting and relaxing of the muscle has the effect of: Increasing circulation (blood flow) to the affected tissue area, which aids in repair.

What does EMS do? ›

Emergency medical services (EMS) workers provide pre-hospital emergency medical care. Their duties create an inherent risk for on-the-job injuries and illnesses. Research shows that EMS workers have high rates of fatal injuries and nonfatal injuries and illnesses.

Can I use EMS everyday? ›

Before you consider how many you need, it is important to understand that the maximum amount of times you can train using Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) technology is 1-2 times per week. This is to allow time for your muscles to repair and recoup before your next session.

What is the difference between TENS and units? ›

our two-digit numbers into tens and units. Considering the number '63', we can see that it is made up of two digits: '6' and then '3'. The digit of '3' is in the units (or ones) column and is just worth 3. Whereas the digit of '6' is in the tens place value column and is worth 60.

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