There is something magical about a good workout. How do you know it’s a good workout? You’re left tired and a little bit sore. Maybe you pushed a little harder than usual to get in that last set. Maybe you’re building new muscle, and everything is a little sore in protest.
TENS units – Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation – work to relieve muscle soreness. They are an increasingly popular recovery tool that can get back to your workout program sooner.
Since TENS units are getting more popular, there are a lot of different models out there. We’ve put together a list of the best models for serious athletes and runners. These units perform, are long-lasting, and have the strength you need as an athlete to address muscle and nerve pain.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Massage Therapy Concepts TENS Unit and EMS Combination
Belifu Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit
1. TENS 7000
The TENS 7000, also known as the original TENS, is an FDA-approved device for controlling pain. This powerful version is one of the most flexible and effective options for all-around performance.
It’s designed to work for almost any major muscle group. If you can put the TENS pads on your skin, you can use this unit to treat pain in that area.
The TENS 7000 is also a particularly easy-to-use unit. The large digital display provides all the information and control you can ask for. It’s also highly adjustable, both in the strength of the electric current and the rate of pulses.
All the accessories you need are included in the kit, starting with several contact points. It’s got a wearable clip for using your TENS unit on the go. It also comes with a portable carry case, which is great for traveling or bringing your unit to and from the office.
The instruction booklet is comprehensive. It describes how TENS units work, how to properly place the electrode pads, and recommends starting settings.
- More powerful than most TENS units
- Comes with everything you need to make your unit portable
- Come with electrode pads and all needed accessories
- Lots of settings options
- A little more expensive than many other models
Best For Home Use
2. Massage Therapy Concepts TENS Unit and EMS Combination
This unit combines TENS therapy and EMS (electro muscle stimulation). The basic difference between these therapies is that TENS therapy focuses on relieving acute and chronic pain, while EMS is used as a way of developing muscles.
So, the TENS function will help to treat pain and discomfort. But the EMS can be used to help rehabilitate muscles as part of your athletic training routine. Both technologies will let you progress and improve faster.
We’ll talk more about these later. For now, let’s look at why this combination unit is the best option for home use.
It comes with 4 electrode pads, all of which are compatible with the dual-channel design. The 12 modes are described by images of the massage equivalent on the digital display. That makes it easy to tell what effect the modes will have.
You’ll be able to pick the most effective treatment mode faster. So, you’ll also be feeling better that much faster.
Each of the 12 settings is compatible with 20 different intensity settings. The flexibility lets you pick exactly the right intensity. No going back and forth between two settings with one being too strong and the next level down too weak.
Several of the settings are both EMS and TENS settings. That means you’ll be getting some of the best pain relief out there, while also rehabilitating and strengthening the stimulated muscle groups.
- Both TENS and EMS therapy
- Comes with 6 electrode pads
- Comes with carrying case and other accessories for portability
- User instructions can be difficult to understand
Best For Back Pain
3. Auvon Dual Channel TENS Unit
The Auvon Dual Channel TENS unit comes with a lot of the accessories we see in the most flexible TENS units. But where it really shines is relieving back pain. The larger electrode pads that come standard with this unit are perfect for stimulating the large muscle groups in your back.
Runners and athletes of all stripes are all too familiar with back pain. Almost any time you start training a new muscle group, you’ll find a corresponding new muscle group in your back. And you’ll probably discover it when it starts to get sore.
That’s where the TENS unit comes in.
Since this unit’s large pads are able to target large muscle groups, and the small electrodes address smaller areas, you can treat almost any area of your back.
The dual-channel feature also means that you can set up two sets of electrodes and program them independently.
Say you’ve got lower back pain and neck pain at the same time. Instead of treating one area after the other, and dealing with all that pain in the meantime, you can treat both areas at once.
Long-lasting pain sets up self-reinforcing and destructive processes in your body. Getting out of pain quicker will allow your body to heal faster and get back to its best. The Auvon Dual Channel TENS can help you get there.
- Dual-Channel system
- Large electrode pads are perfect for your back
- Lots of intensity settings
- 20 treatment modes to choose from
- Electrode pads need to be replaced relatively often
- Unit life is fairly short
Top TENS Unit for Knee Pain
4. Beurer EM 29 2-in-1
Most of the time, your knees are one of the most difficult parts of your body to treat with a TENS unit. A normal TENS unit requires at least two gel electrodes with good skin contact. That can be difficult to place on the knee joint. But Beurer EM’s 2 in 1 TENS unit is different.
Instead of running electric current exclusively through gel electrodes, this unit comes with a universal knee/elbow wrap that delivers the current.
Almost all athletes will have knee pain at some point in their lives. Knees do a lot of work and take a lot of pressure and strain in the process. Relieving that knee pain will get you back to your life, and your training, much faster.
This TENS unit is fully adjustable, meaning you have a continuous range of electric strength, instead of discrete settings.
That means you can dial in your exact effective strength. You won’t need to mess with different settings.
It also comes with 4 pre-programmed treatment modes. Each mode is tailored for your joints, so you’ll get more effective pain relief in your knees with this unit over other TENS units.
- Designed specifically for knees and elbows
- Helps relieve pain and inflammation in one of the highest-use areas of the body
- Fast-acting and effective
- Treatments relieve pain even after session is complete
- Not as versatile as other TENS units
- Only uses a one-size-fits-all band, may not truly fit everyone
Best TENS/EMS Combo Unit
5. Belifu Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit
We’ve had another TENS/EMS unit on this list, so we’ve already gone into some of the distinctions between the two. But, when you’re looking for a good TENS/EMS unit, you need to know that both functions are going to work and that they’re going to work consistently.
This system being dual channel is important. If you’re using it as an EMS unit, you can use those dual channels to treat muscles evenly across your body. As a TENS unit, that dual-channel function means that you can target and treat two different areas of pain, simultaneously.
The 24 different modes, 20 settings, and timer give an incredibly high level of control over this unit. Your treatment type, strength, and time are all flexible.
It’s battery-powered, and perfect for travel. But the internal batteries also charge when plugged into the wall. That means you won’t have to replace the batteries or worry about operating costs with this unit.
- Lots of flexibility and control
- Dual-channel for more even EMS treatment, more thorough TENS treatment
- Comes with lots of electrode pads
- Can be difficult to get good skin contact from the electrode pads
Top TENS Unit for ESTIM
6. Easy@Home TENS Unit
Easy@Home’s unit is both a TENS unit and an EMS unit. But let’s look at our rating. This is the best TENS unit for ESTIM. Technically, every TENS unit can be used for ESTIM, but a successful ESTIM program needs a good machine with controlled targeting.
ESTIM is electro stimulation. It’s commonly used as a co-therapy for physical therapy and muscular rehab programs. You can expect to see ESTIM used as a treatment for stroke victims and people with muscular or nerve disorders that are responsive to treatment.
For athletes, ESTIM functions similarly to EMS (which is a form of ESTIM treatment). But, an ESTIM regimen can also be used to help target and restore muscles impacted by old injuries. It can be used to even out muscle development.
You can even use ESTIM, and this TENS unit, to target and stimulate under-developed muscles and learn to engage and use the proper muscle groups as you exercise.
However, this unit got our ESTIM rating because of one other feature other units don’t focused on: circulation. This is a good unit if you need to stimulate an area for improved circulation. Improving circulation will also help improve your recovery time between workouts and after an injury.
- Improves circulation
- Designed to stimulate muscles and nerves for long-term recovery
- Easy to control, simple button design
- Small enough to fit in a pocket and use on the go
- Electrodes lose stickiness quickly
Best For Foot Pain
7. HealthmateForever 2020 Version 24 Modes PRO24AB TENS Unit & Muscle Stimulator
This unit is one of the most recent models, using the most up-to-date innovations and technologies.
It has a lot of the standard features that many of the units on this list have. 20 different power settings, 24 modes, and an adjustable timer complement a visual display that shows different modes using a massage analogy.
The big LCD screen is easy to read with large images and a back-lit display. The A and B channels are separate, meaning you can independently control the stimulation at different levels in each pad.
A separate wireless kit can be purchased if you want to eliminate the number of wires attached to the device.
- Small, slim design
- Good battery life
- 20 stimulation levels allow for easy customization
- Scrolling through various modes can be tedious
- Some complaints about durability
Top TENS Unit for Shoulder Pain
8. MEDVICE Rechargeable TENS Unit
This is another TENS unit that comes with a variety of electrode pads in varying sizes. It’s designed to be able to effectively treat a wide variety of muscle groups and different shapes and angles on your body.
That’s why this unit gets our “Best for Shoulder Pain” rating. Your shoulders are a difficult area to treat. Large pads that are too wide are difficult to place and can easily lose contact during treatment. But smaller pads are usually designed for small muscle groups and don’t adequately stimulate the large muscle groups and nerves found in your shoulder.
This set, however, comes with several different electrode pads that are perfectly designed for working with those large shoulder muscles.
That means that your shoulders, a high-use and high-impact area of your body, can now benefit from the use of a quality TENS unit.
TENS is particularly beneficial for shoulder muscles since they often hold a constant level of tension that needs to be worked out and relieved to encourage recovery, growth, and healing.
It also has the added benefit of being a quick-charge device, taking only an hour to reach a full battery.
This is a dual-channel TENS unit. You’ll be able to treat two different areas at once, or, in this case, different parts of one shoulder, or both shoulders, at the same time.
- Fast-charge design
- Multiple electrode shapes and sizes
- Works particularly well for shoulders and other large muscle groups
- Upgraded electrode pad design for better adhesion and longer durability
- Shorter battery life (only 10 hours)
- Unit durability isn’t great
Best TENS for Neck Pain
9. TENKER EMS TENS Unit
It doesn’t seem like it should be difficult to use a TENS unit for your neck. But the truth is that this is another tricky area of your body to effectively treat with TENS. That’s because there’s a lot of curve in your neck, not to mention that most people have small hairs that also get in the way of good electrode connection.
Your neck is also full of muscles. There are lots of muscles that work to hold and move your neck, and any one of them can be irritated by exercise or just day to day life.
So you need a TENS unit sensitive and flexible enough to adjust for comfortable use on your neck. It also needs to have a lot of different electrode shapes and sizes to reach and treat the different muscles in your neck.
The TENKER TENS unit meets all of those qualifications.
It’s got multiple shapes and sizes of electrode, all of which work well on your neck, upper back, and shoulders. That means you can get in and treat the pain and soreness in that area, wherever the pain and stiffness originate.
It’s small enough to take with you anywhere, so you can apply the electrodes as soon as you start noticing neck pain or spasms.
- Small enough to be portable
- Designed to work well for a lot of different muscle groups
- 20 hours of continuous use from a single battery charge
- Flexible settings and timer settings
- Electrode pads lose stickiness easily
- Electrode pads can disconnect from the wire, no shock guard on the exposed wire
Best TENS for Hip Pain
10. TEC.BEAN TENS Unit
You’ll never know how much you use your hips for until they start to hurt. The pain reminds you of every time you use them. Hips are an important joint, and relieving the pain in your hips makes it easier to get back to running and maintain your normal exercise routine.
Both the large and medium pads in this TEC.BEANS unit work well for hip pain, depending on the pain location and severity. They work relatively well and last a reasonable number of uses. It also comes with a good travel bag that works to contain the unit, electrode pads, and the wiring and charging supplies.
It’s easy to manipulate the settings, which is important because the muscles in your hips are dynamic. You may end up using several settings to effectively treat pain in your hips, all in a single treatment.
That flexibility in treatment, and the different designs of the electrode pads, make this a good choice for athletes with hip pain.
It’s also small enough to slip the TENS unit into your back pocket. Take it along on hiking trips, to the gym, or even just to the office.
- Convenient and portable
- Lots of settings flexibility and control
- Designed for lots of muscle groups and areas
- Perfect for hip, low-back, and sciatic pain
- Not as durable as some units
Of course, there’s more to using a TENS unit than just looking at the instruction booklet and putting electrodes on your skin. This FAQ will cover some of the most important things you need to know to make the most of your new TENS unit.
How do TENS units work?
A TENS unit uses small adhesive gel patches to pass a controlled electric current through your skin.
That current stimulates both the muscles and the nerve cells in the area. Your muscles will tense and relax, while your nerve receives stimulation that can soothe and block pain signals.
These two things in combination create lasting pain relief of muscle and nerve pain in specifically targeted areas. It works on small and large muscle groups, and you can perform multiple treatments to treat multiple areas.
Most TENS units offer a range of strength and pulse settings, each of which targets different types of muscles and different types of pain. It’s worth experimenting with settings on your TENS unit to see which are most effective for you.
How do you use a TENS unit?
Effective use of a TENS unit relies on three things: good skin connection, placement directly on the muscle, and selecting an appropriate mode and intensity.
Good skin connection is required because without it, the electric current won’t pass through your skin. You might feel a surface tingle, a sharp shock, or nothing at all with a poorly placed electrode. Use the provided electrode gel on clean skin for the best connection. Cleaning your skin with a washcloth and applying while your skin is slightly damp can also help improve connection.
You should only apply a TENS electrode while the unit is off, preferably before the electrode and wire are attached to the unit.
You’ll also want to place the electrodes directly on the muscle. Feel with your fingers until you can identify the sore area, and distinguish between the muscles in the area. Make sure you’re applying it to the correct muscle, and at a thicker area of the muscle. That way you’re safely stimulating the correct areas.
You should also plan on starting at a low intensity. Try several different modes to familiarize yourself with your options. Once you’ve found the mode or modes that feel best to you, slowly increase the intensity until you reach a comfortable level that effectively treats your pain.
How do I make the TENS pads sticky again?
One of the most common problems plaguing TENS users is the breakdown and loss of stickiness from the electrode pads. Fortunately, your electrode pads can be restored several times before they need to be replaced.
A simple rinse with plain water, while the electrode is off and detached from the unit, will work. You may also want to use a q-tip or other shaped cotton soaked in water to detail clean if your electrode is visibly filmed or dirty.
Once the gel begins to tear or change shape, it’s probably time to replace.
How often can I use a TENS unit?
It’s generally considered safe to use your TENS unit up to three times a day in any given area. But, you may be able to use it more if you have several different treatment areas.
The real question is how beneficial is TENS? How often can you use it before the effects wear off?
TENS/EMS units that can stimulate and move the muscles can also cause soreness on their own. Your muscle is still working, even though it’s an electric current telling it to move. Try not to over-work your muscles, even if that means limiting your treatments or cutting a treatment shorter than normal.