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The Best TENS Units for a Jolt of Post

Jul 13, 2023

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Put the power of electricity to work soothing your muscles, aches and pains.

Have you ever visited a chiropractor or physical therapist to help qualm lingering aches and pains? If so, your treatment probably involved a bit of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS. This electrotherapy modality can be an excellent option for athletes wanting a safe and drug-free approach to relieving chronic pain; at a medical professional's office, however, it also likely involved the use of a cumbersome machine, multiple electrode pads and a fair bit of time spent on the table.

If you have experience with TENS treatment, then you know of its perks, but getting to your physical therapist is not always convenient. Thankfully, there are a number of at-home TENS units on the market, bringing that spark to your recovery regimen without the need for an appointment or extra trip.

Naturally, however, there is a little bit of homework required before rushing out to get a TENS unit for your personal use. After all, we're talking about an electrifying recovery tool that sends jolt after jolt across your body. Before we plug into our top picks, let's cover a few basic factors to consider when searching for an at-home TENS unit, as well as define what these devices are meant to do in practice.

Like the larger devices found at your local chiropractor or physical therapy center, at-home TENS units work by sending small electrical pulses through your skin for the sake of stimulating your nerve endings at the targeted areas. These impulses can vary in intensity, depending on your tolerance and device settings, and may result in slight fidgets or ticks along your frame.

Now, while it may sound intriguing to watch your muscles and digits dance and twitch with each impulse, there is a reason for all this shock treatment. According to studies, these short bursts of electricity can help flood the nervous system, reducing your body's ability to transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain. Additionally, these impulses can also stimulate the body to produce more endorphins, which serve as your natural pain relievers.

Anytime a device calls for you to willingly expose your body to electric shock, you want to ensure it's safe to use. When choosing a TENS unit for at-home use, be sure to search for models that have been tested and deemed safe by organizations such as the FDA. Additionally, you should take your personal health into consideration. Do not use a TENS unit if you have a pacemaker, defibrillator or other implanted metallic device.

Different muscle groups have different levels of sensitivity. As such, some target areas may require more or less intense electric impulses to garner the same results. Look for a TENS unit that offers a wide range of intensities that allow you to cater your treatment to your needs.

You should also look for TENS units that offer multiple treatment modes that vary in terms of timing, pulse pattern, intensity and more. This versatile library of treatments can help you fine-tune your recovery depending on your needs while also taking the strain out of monitoring your session. Many of the TENS units included in this roundup offer multiple modes targeting muscle recovery, activation, massage and other treatments for a bevy of soothing, relieving, performance-minded benefits.

Lastly, it's always preferred to look for TENS units with multiple channels. This allows you to plug into multiple electrode pads across a singular session and cover more surface area throughout treatment. Plus, some TENS units allow you to individually alter the intensity of each channel, which can be great for those wanting a softer regimen across one area while still heavily targeting another.

As stated above, to target your nerve endings through TENS treatments, you need to place tacky electrode pads across your musculature, which normally connect back to the main unit through a series of wires or Bluetooth connection. These pads can vary by size, and thus, their treatment area.

If you're looking to treat smaller aches and pains, you're likely to get enough coverage through smaller pads, which are typically square or circular but may feature a more ergonomic design, depending on the brand. Additionally, some brands offer larger, more specific electrode pad designs for lower back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain and other ailments. While these can fit great across these areas with little resistance, they might be more of a burden when trying to target more general areas. I'd recommend keeping a mixed bag of pad shapes on stock to allow for more versatile treatment, regardless of where your future aches show up across your frame.

In addition to your pad size, you also need to account for how tacky and effective these electrodes will be over extended use. The stickiness of each electrode will, naturally, begin to dissipate over time, leading to replacement purchases. Be sure to look for TENS units that utilize durable, high-quality electrodes from the start in an effort to keep costs down.

When choosing an at-home TENS unit, you're likely to come across two options: those featuring a rechargeable battery, or those that run off single-use batteries. There are no clear winners between the two, but for athletes that regularly use electrotherapy as a form of treatment, the rechargeable option may be the smarter play. This can allow you to forgo replacement battery purchases down the road, but will likely add a little to the upfront price tag. Be sure to choose a model that fits your needs and personal wants.

TENS treatment is surprisingly intuitive — just place the electrodes, power up and monitor your session throughout its runtime. With that being said, though, a TENS unit is rendered useless if getting to your desired settings or mode is a complicated endeavor. As a result, it's always ideal to opt for a device featuring a clear and concise display along with simple toggles to achieve the proper settings. Many of the featured units in this roundup cater to this need, or at least have thorough instruction manuals to ensure each regimen is powered properly without any uncertainty.

One of the added benefits of TENS treatment is that you don't need to be prone to reap the effects of the impulses. Your nerve endings and muscles are still capable of receiving stimulation, provided your unit has enough wire (or a strong enough connection) to allow for unhindered movement. If you're looking to pair your TENS regimen with more active activities post-workout, be sure to look for devices featuring long enough cables for secure connection, as well as smaller head units that either clip conveniently to your waistband or fit discreetly in a pocket. This can better facilitate multitasking endeavors and allow you to accomplish various tasks and chores all while you soak up that pain-blocking relief.

I've used TENS units for a variety of reasons across my multiple years in fitness and athletics. While some sessions were to treat minor tweaks and twinges suffered in training, others were for the sake of rehabilitating from larger injuries. As such, I've had my fair share of experience with a number of these devices, highlighting their efficiency and ease of use with each relieving session.

I've also taken notes on how versatile each unit is in terms of the offered modes and intensities, as I often incorporate TENS treatment as a brief warm-up for more intense training days. Naturally, price was also considered when rounding out this buying guide, both from an initial purchase standpoint as well as how expensive replacement electrode pads would be down the road.

During previous injuries and ailments, I often relied on an iReliev TENS unit to help manage my pain when not being treated by a physical therapist. Thankfully, the ET-8080 carries on the brand's trusted nature as one of the best silhouettes for these needs. I really enjoyed the sleek nature of the lightweight unit that fit easily in my pocket, while the 14 available modes and 25 varied intensities really created a personalized sensation that fit perfectly to my needs.

Additionally, the backlit display of the ET-8080 ensures you’re well aware of the chosen intensity and mode, as well as how long you have left in the given session. And when settings needed tweaked, the simple toggles at the base of the unit allowed for quick and easy adjustments. Naturally, though, some athletes may dislike the wired nature of this profile, as it does limit how mobile you can be during sessions. Plus, I’ve found it's best to pay close attention to how you store and house the wires when not in-use. You don't want to unknot a rat's nest every time you want to feel that stimulating relief.

One of the first things of note that separates this impressive Therabody-owned TENS unit from the pack is its sleekness. Not only does the PowerDot 2.0 Duo come equipped with a compact carrying case to house all the necessities, but the individual units are super slim and nearly disappear across your body while in use. Plus, all the controls and settings are toggled through your smartphone, making it one of the most intuitive units in this roundup. I also enjoyed the variety of modes and intensities included in the companion app, which definitely lent themselves to more frequent use throughout testing.

The PowerDot 2.0 Duo also includes multiple wires that connect the available electrode pads to the on-body control units. Each wire is a unique length, which keeps setups more packed and convenient — no hanging wires when treatment areas are less expansive. You can also operate each individual unit on its own if dual sessions aren't required, but I did notice some lag and inconsistencies when trying to use two devices at once. This called for more playing around and settings toggling at times, but once set correctly, this proved to be a high-quality unit that's sure to be a regular addition to my fitness routine.

Most at-home TENS units are affordable despite the tech built into their silhouettes. Still, though, a bargain is always a nice perk, and this device from Belifu certainly meets that criteria. The large display, 24 engrained modes and 20 intensity levels all fly in the face of its sub-$50 price tag. Plus, I also appreciate the A/B Dual Channels that allow you to utilize multiple pads in one session, each with their own specific intensity levels.

The abundance of available pads per session is a nice touch to this impressive unit, but be prepared to order replacement electrodes in the near future. Some athletes have noted that the pads begin to lose their secure tackiness after just a few uses. Thankfully, the brand offers replacement packs featuring 10 pairs of electrodes per bundle, which can be great for keeping your post-workout recovery regimen well-stocked for plenty of sessions to come.

If you’re brand-new to TENS treatment, you may feel a little overwhelmed when presented with a bevy of modes and intensities to choose from. Well, the Pocket Pain Pro from Omron takes all that confusion out of treatment thanks to a more streamlined interface that delivers the no-frills efficiency ideal for novice athletes. This TENS unit includes three pre-set programs for treating arm/shoulder, lower back and leg/foot aches, as well as two massage-like modes to give your sessions another sense of revitalizing sensation. Plus, the display is much more utilitarian, offering simple toggles that showcase quick changes without a mess of numerals or readouts.

The Omron Pocket Pain Pro is definitely a trimmed down silhouette — perhaps too trimmed down for some. Some may prefer a backlit display to help illustrate their treatment routines day in and day out, but I would have also appreciated an extra set of electrode pads as part of the original package. You only get two butterfly-style pads with the unit itself, and while these electrodes are intended to last up to 150 uses (according to the brand), having an extra set on-hand would undoubtedly be a nice touch.

No wires? No problem. This sleek and effective silhouette from iReliev provides the same pain-blocking relief as its ET-8080 counterpart, all without the hassle of tangled or less mobile cables. I also appreciate the syncing efficiency of each included pod across the ET-5050, as there was little delay in setting up each unit for treatment. Plus, if you’d prefer to expand coverage down the road to larger muscle groups or, like I perceive myself doing, targeting both arms or legs simultaneously, expansion pod packs are available for purchase.

The only thing I would have appreciated, however, would be a more intuitive shutdown sequence. In order to turn both pods off entirely while treatment is still ongoing, you need to drop the intensity on the control down to zero then toggle the pod power buttons to off. I think this procedure could be more streamlined, but thankfully, iReliev includes a well-detailed instruction manual outlining these steps, as well as other useful notes to make every session as effective as ever.

Low back aches and pains can easily sideline even the most dedicated athletes, yet hitting these injuries with treatment can be a bit of a hassle if tackling them with, say, massage guns or foam rollers. This impressive TENS unit from Hollywog, on the other hand, features an ergonomic design that sits conveniently across your lower back, providing plenty of pain relief without the need for a more active recovery regimen. Plus, the WiTouch Pro is controlled via Bluetooth, which is great for changing settings and intensities on the fly without having to twist and contort to hit on-unit toggles.

Unfortunately, though, the WiTouch Pro is more purpose-built than other TENS units in this guide. Because of the lower-back-oriented profile, this may not be the best for athletes wanting TENS treatments across other muscle groups in the near future. If you’re solely focused on alleviating tension and pain in this area, give this a go, but if you want to add a more versatile tool to your recovery arsenal, it may be best to look elsewhere.

The more electrode pads you use, the larger an area you can treat at once. While most TENS units only allow for four pads to be used in one session, this profile from Etekcity supports up to eight during treatment. That can be more than enough surface area to target strained backs, legs, hamstrings, arms and more! Additionally, I also like how targeted treatment is broken down across the interface of the Etekcity ETU-134 TENS Machine, with each body part getting its own respective button for toggling.

It is recommended, however, that you develop a habit of charging this TENS unit routinely between sessions to ensure you’re well-powered for each treatment. Unfortunately, there is no battery life indicator across the display, which doesn't lend itself to well-informed recovery. If you don't charge this TENS unit's battery in-between uses, you could be left with too little juice to power your relief.

TENS units, especially those with rechargeable batteries, can be an excellent investment for dedicated athletes thanks to their ability to provide regular relief over the span of multiple training years. To get the most out of that timeline, though, you want a device that's well-built, and for this need, I highly recommend the profile from Neocarbon. The durable makeup of the head unit is top notch, while the convenient, quality carrying case ensures your divide sits comfortably secured when not in use. I also appreciate the charging speed of this silhouette, which is able to reach full capacity within three hours.

While there's plenty of durable notes across this silhouette from Neocarbon, the same cannot be said for the additional electrode pads when compared to others out there. While you do receive six pads with your initial purchase, and each electrode is rated for up to 50 uses, this is slightly lower than others in this guide. The makeup of this TENS unit does allow for third-party replacement pads, though, so refilling your stock once these pads lose their tackiness shouldn't be too hard of a hit on your wallet.