Everything You Should Know About Getting A TENS Unit

If you’re dealing with chronic pain, inflammatory conditions or muscle spasms, the odds are that you’ve thought about using a TENS unit.

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and is a popular method of alleviating acute and chronic pain.

Pain is the body’s way of communicating that something isn’t right. In fact it plays a fundamental role in helping us to stay healthy and functional. The problem is that pain interferes with the quality of our lifestyle, particularly if you’re coping with chronic pain.

Relentless chronic pain can result in serious emotional and physical stress. That can then lead to other ailments causing a destructive cycle. Using a device that uses electrical nerve stimulation can be liberating.

This guides you on important aspects and questions you might have on the topic. Click on the link in the table below to go directly to that area.

This is what we’ll cover…

What Is A TENS Unit?

The most commonly used form of electrical stimulation utilized for pain management is TENS therapy. The aim is to offer short-term pain relief from a wide range of conditions, including back pain.

According to official reports, 8 out of 10 Americans will cope with back problems at some point in their lives. Lower back pain seems to be on the rise. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to twist the wrong way and we’re in trouble, or spending too long sitting in the wrong position in front of a computer can be a major problem

People are searching for effective ways of relieving pain including taking a look at the best TENS units for back pain.

back being treated with tens therapy

The home TENS unit is a battery-operated, small device. It delivers low-voltage electrical current to the skin by using electrodes.

The electricity supplied by the electrodes aims at stimulating the nerves in the affected area. These send out signals to the brain so that the brain perceives the pain differently.

You should note that TENS isn’t a painful therapy.It may be effective in addressing all types of pains. Health care professionals have utilized TENS therapy to supply pain relief since the 1960s.

The benefit of getting a unit is that it has the potential to reduce the need for treatment. In other words, if you don’t want to take drugs or pain killers because of their potential side effects, this could be a good option.

How Does A TENS Unit Work?

This therapy disrupts the body’s pain cycle as it delivers a non-painful sensation to the skin, in the area that troubles you.

Essentially, TENS aims at modulating the way in which the body processes the sensation of pain. In other words, we could say that such a device closes the pain gate.

This theory implies that the central nervous system features a gate mechanism. If the gate is open, the pain signals pass through the brain. Hence, the immediate result is feeling the pain.

placement of Tens electrodes on for treating female lower back area

However, when the gate is closed, the pain transmitters are blocked. That means you won’t feel the pain any longer. The impulses delivered by the unit stimulate no-pain-carrying-nerves. These signals move quicker than slow pain signals.

In other words, the brain focuses on the impulses sent out by the unit. That explains why people experience temporary pain relief when using the device.

Depending on the frequency delivered by the unit, the electrical stimulation might also encourage the body to produce endorphins. Endorphins behave as natural painkillers. They also promote an overall feeling of well-being.

Types Of Pain

TENS machines are recommended to treat discomfort and pain determined by distinct illnesses and health conditions.

Bone Problems

Ankle, hip, foot, joint, wrist, elbow, heel pain. Additionally, you can get pain relief from sports injuries, calf strain, bruising, osteoporosis, postoperative pain, and rheumatism as well. Many people look for the best TENS unit for shoulder pain, because it’s useful for treating these injuries.

placement of electrodes for knee pain

Back Pain

TENS units may also relieve pain and muscle spasms that develop after vertebral fractures caused by osteoporosis. Apart from that, they may diminish the pain associated with spinal cord trauma, sciatica, spinal stenosis, and herniated discs. Also, if you’re dealing with sudden or acute pain from labor and delivery, such a device may help. *Always check with your medical professional before use.

Neck Pain

You should avoid placing the electrode pads on the front or side of the neck.

Knee Pain

If you’re suffering from knee joint arthritis, a TENS machine will offer pain relief.

Pelvic pain

TENS devices are widely utilized for treating pelvic pain, including interstitial cystitis, which is referred to as painful bladder syndrome, menstrual pain, and prostatitis.

Tens Relieving Pelvic Pain

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, TENS devices are effective tools at diminishing pelvic pain by increasing circulation to the bladder and by strengthening the pelvic muscles.

The Specs


TENS units come in many forms and designs. For instance sometimes, just having the machine for use at home won’t do. You might want to take it with you to work and on vacation. So getting a device that has a compact design is a good idea.

Programmable Options

Let’s say that you intend to have full control of the TENS machine you get. In this case, you should choose one that allows you to customize the intensity, channels, mode, time and program.

TENS Programs

Essentially, everyone responds to each setting differently. Being able to program the device according to your needs, preferences and pain tolerance will enhance its functionality and usefulness for you.

LCD Display

Some models have large LCDs that present graphic information such as mode, intensity, time remaining etc. Depending on the price of the product, the display could be either large or small, include a touch-screen or be backlit.

Adjustable Timer

Having an adjustable timer on a TENS device can be practical. It lets you know when the session is over. Even though there aren’t any strict boundaries regarding the appropriate amount of time for using a TENS machine, you shouldn’t overdo it either.

TENS Unit Pads

Electrode pads have a limited lifespan. Therefore, they will be the first things that need replacing. The variety of pads is quite large. Sometimes the quality of the pads that come complete with the machine are not the most serviceable available.

size and shapes of different electrode pads available for a tens unit

For example, you should ensure that the pads you select are compatible with your device. Also, you may choose from a bunch of sizes and shapes such as square, butterfly, round, strips.

Depending on how much you intend to utilize the pads, you could obtain a better deal if you get them in bulk. Apart from that, bear in mind that you should also get a fitting type.

How To Use A TENS Unit?

  • Before using the device, make sure it is fully charged. Typically, the best TENS unit to buy features two control knobs. One of them regulates the strength of the signals sent out by the machine. The other knob will make the electrical signals slow or fast. Before you start using the unit, the control knobs should be in the off position.
  • Clean the area where you plan on positioning the electrodes. Allow the skin to dry.
  • Place a coat of gel on the bottom of each electrode. The gel allows the electrical signals to reach the nerves under the skin.
  • The next step is to position the electrodes on the skin. You may utilize sticky patches or medical tape to cover the electrodes. That will prevent the electrode from sticking to the skin.
  • Link the pin connectors to the electrodes. Afterward, you may connect the wires into the unit.
  • Slowly, regulate the control knobs to the correct setting. You’ll start feeling a tingly sensation. The feeling should be notable, yet not too uncomfortable.
  • After a couple of minutes, the sensation will slowly diminish – which is known as accommodation. When that occurs, we advise you to turn the machine up a bit and leave it in use for the rest of the time. It would be best to avoid turning the machine too high – this could lead to overstimulation, which may worsen the pain.
  • At the end of the session, shut down the unit. Also, disconnect the electrodes from the machine. Nevertheless, if you plan on reusing the machine later, you shouldn’t necessarily remove the electrodes.
  • Make sure the pads don’t irritate the skin. If that happens, you should use another type of pad, tape or contact gel.

In general, you may choose to place the electrodes on almost every part of the body. Still, some areas should be avoided:

  • Your heart
  • Your temples
  • Your eyes or mouth
  • The side or front of the neck
  • Varicose veins
  • Damaged or broken skin
  • Areas of diminished sensation

Ideally, you should avoid placing the pads exactly on a joint such as an elbow, knee or ankle. That’s because its movement could change the adherence of the pad.

Let’s say that the pain extends to a considerable part of the body. In this case, you should locate one of the pads on the top of the pain, and the other one at the bottom.

On the other hand, if the painful surface is small, it would be best to place the pads in parallel, on the opposing sides of the affected area.

TENS Unit Vs. EMS Unit

Although in today’s article we focus on TENS units, you should know that these are similar to EMS units. So, in this section, we will present the distinctions and similarities between the two. It’s important to comprehend that these items work differently.

Each of them has a defined purpose, aiming to address certain conditions.

Difference betwen TENS and EMS

An EMS unit stands for an Electronic Muscle Stimulator. We’re talking about a technological, medical device. It sends customized electrical impulses to the targeted muscles. Using such a unit is an efficient way of rehabilitating the muscles.

Additionally, this device is known to prevent complete muscle atrophy. This condition is featured by the weakening of the muscles and the loss of muscle tone. That is common for people who have experienced an injury or underwent surgery.

What Is The Difference Between EMS Units And TENS Units?

The fundamental difference between the two is that EMS units focus on specific muscles, whereas TENS units target specific nerves.

What is more, some TENS units may also be used as EMS units. Nevertheless, EMS units cannot be used as TENS units. Furthermore, the latter are more commonly used for managing and treating the pain. As for the former, they deliver a therapeutic intervention for muscle rehabilitation.

EMS devices are recommended for the following:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Cosmetic muscle toning
  • Strengthening the muscles
  • Prevention of disuse muscular atrophy
  • Enhancing local blood circulation
  • Muscular relaxation

In other words, if you intend to build muscle, which is part of a rehabilitation or training program, you should go for an EMS machine. However, if you want to get pain relief, a TENS machine will do.

In some situations, individuals suffer from pain that implies both the muscles and the nerves. As a result, one may find relief by combining the units. Most importantly, you should establish what causes your pain so that you can make the most sensible decisions for your health and well-being.


Healthmate Forever

Healthmate Forever aims at supplying products that actually meet the needs of their customer base. In fact, a Healthmate Forever TENS unit is known to address muscle pain effectively.

A beneficial aspect is that their electrode pads don’t necessitate applying gel or creams before every use. Apart from that, the pads are created to be used up to 100 times. Evidently, having adequate maintenance practices is the key to that.

Additionally, this is a company that understands sustainability. Hence, it promotes an environmentally-friendly approach to business operations.

United Surgical

Next on the list is United Surgical, another renowned manufacturer in the marketplace of TENS units. They have numerous best-selling products targeted towards people coping with health problems.

USP International

Most customers have been happy with their United Surgical TENS unit. Hence, these are best-selling products. This is a company that is determined to continually enhance its items for the sake of its clients.


iReliev is a reputable producer of TENS units. Among the many advantages of getting an iReliev TENS unit is that you get a 2-year warranty and 45-day guarantee.

In other words, if their products don’t work out for you as you anticipated, you have the option of sending them back.

iReliev Company Logo

Another benefit is that you get free electrodes, as well. Aside from that, the positive reviews we read online demonstrate that this is a company that treats its customers right.

Pure Enrichment

Pure Enrichment is a top manufacturer of health, home, and personal care items. All of their items, every Pure Enrichment TENS unit included, are made with quality in mind.

Additionally, they come accompanied by industry-leading warranties.

Pure Enrichment Company Logo

Their motto is to focus on the client. From that point onward, everything else flows naturally.


Omron has begun manufacturing products in the 1930s. This is a company that strongly believes in technology, in the sense that it can enhance your everyday lives and your health.

Omron Company

So, with every Omron TENS unit delivered, this company aims at improving your daily lifestyle. That means you can say goodbye to the pain that troubles you.

Are TENS Units Safe?

Each decision we make has its pros and cons. The same applies when it comes to getting the best portable TENS unit. While most people who use these devices won’t experience any side effects, it’s best to know what to expect.

The first side effect is associated with the self-adhesive pads.

So, many users reported unpleasant skin reactions after applying the pads. That’s because they are made of latex. About 3 percent of people experience allergic reactions.

However, most of the time, those reactions may be avoided. The key is to steer clear of placing the pads in the exact place use after use.

Hand with Tens Pad

Additionally, if one uses the machine too often, or their pulse is too high, the electrical stimulation may further lead to muscle pain and twitching.

Aside from these potential side effects, using these units is safe. Nevertheless, some individuals should steer clear of these devices. We will talk about this in a bit (see section below).

How Often Should You Use A TENS Unit?

How often you use a TENS device will depend primarily on how quickly the pain returns. Most people tend to use the device about 2-3 times per day. However, it’s not uncommon to use it more often than that.

As for the length of the sessions, they range between 20 to 40 minutes. Nevertheless, this will depend on the individual and following your doctor or medical professional’s guidance. Some people might get pain relief sooner than others.

Always check the instructions of the product, and take guidance from the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Who Shouldn’t Use A TENS Unit?

The consensus is that TENS devices are generally safe. Nonetheless, some individuals shouldn’t use these items, for safety reasons.

So, you shouldn’t use this type of therapy:

  • If you have heart disease
  • If you have epilepsy
  • You have a pacemaker
  • You are pregnant – unless your healthcare provider has recommended you to do so.
  • If the cause of your pain isn’t diagnosed
  • children

Maintenance Tips

Over time, your best-rated TENS unit will require additional care. For example, you might have to substitute the pads. Rest assured, this is entirely normal, especially if you use the unit on a regular basis.

However, that doesn’t mean you cannot use the machine. Plus, if you are careful with using the device and the pads, you could seriously prolong their lifespan.

For instance, after each use, we advise you to clean the pads using a moist, clean cloth. If you sense that the pads are less sticky than they should be, it could be because of oil and dirt.

Tens Peeling Off

Avoid using a paper towel, for instance, since it may leave residue, and you don’t want that.

Secondly, by moistening the pads, you can make them sticky once again. You may place a few drops of water for this purpose. But don’t overdo it.

Another way to care for the electrode pads is to brush the top layer of hydrogel gently. Make sure you use a clean toothbrush. You should use the brush in a single direction only.

One of the primary reasons why electrode pads lose their stickiness is that they are oversaturated. While it’s ok to use the TENS unit whenever you need, you should give your skin time to breathe, now and then. The same applies to the electrode pads.

Our advice is to rotate the pads every 4-6 hours. This way, you give them a chance to dry out.

The bottom line is that even though you can prolong the life of the electrode pads, you’ll have to replace them eventually.

Tens Pad Cleaning With Light Soap

We estimate that you may get about 30 uses out of each. Another way in which you may preserve the pads is by utilizing gels and electrolyte sprays.

On a final note, make sure you store the unit in a cool and dry place.


Health providers have been using TENS therapy for quite a while now. Although there is no guarantee that such a machine will make your pain vanish into thin air, it can help in this direction.

Considering that this decision will directly impact your health, it’s best to analyze the pros and cons associated with making the purchase. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to establish whether a TENS unit is a good investment or not.

We have done our part by presenting to you the most important details about this machine. This way, you can make an informed decision.

If you want to find out more about this far-reaching topic and discover our recommendations for the best TENS unit for the money, you should read our buying guide, as well!

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