Best Therapeutic TENS Unit | 2020 Impressive Buyer’s Guide

Best Therapeutic TENS Unit: photo

This guide describes the best therapeutic TENS unit currently available on the market, elaborating on its advantages and key features. You will learn how electricity actually helps fight pain, canceling pain signals out by the stronger one induced by the shock. Find out a detailed list of indications for use of a TENS unit, including pain in the upper and lower back, muscle spasms, headaches, and other health issues. You will also learn where you should place the electrodes depending on the problem you are dealing with. Apart from that, this guide explores the history of electricity as a treatment, from ancient experiments on electric eels to Benjamin Franklin’s discovery and studies conducted in the 20th century.

What Is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)?

Do you live with joint and muscle pain? I sure do, and if your answer was yes, then you have my sympathy and empathy both. Joint pain especially can just make your life absolutely miserable. You try and try to ignore it, to live with it, but it’s like that annoying guest that never shuts up, and won’t go home.

I myself am unfortunate enough to suffer fairly severe arthritis, which is a somewhat early onset given I’m under fifty. It’s a miserable experience and has taught me why the elderly are often so irritable, bless their souls.

Over the years, I’ve tried just about everything, from pain killers, and muscle creams, all the way up to absurd herbalist remedies. The painkillers, frankly, made me stupid. Muscle creams help, but not nearly enough, and all that herbal nonsense is just that – nonsense and a waste of money.

When my doctor brought up TENS, I was skeptical, as I’m sure you probably are as well. How was shocking myself on purpose going to help? Wasn’t electric shock bad for you? Wouldn’t it just be painful and tick me off more? After all, I recalled the Victorian and Edwardian era’s fixation on electricity and radiation being magical cures for everything, and how laughable such things were in hindsight.

However, likely out of pure desperation more than anything else, I caved and tried it. It was surprising to discover relatively immediate, quantifiable results. It takes some getting used to, it just hurts if you use the technology wrong, sure. But if you follow the product and medical directions for this technology properly, you stand a high likelihood of benefiting greatly from this.

Before I talk about how to use this, how it works, and show you what I think is the best one on the market, let’s actually explore the history of electricity as a treatment.

Where Did TENS Come From?

Believe it or not, the first semi-practical exploration of electricity far predates Benjamin Franklin’s historic “discovery” of electricity. In fact, while Mr. Franklin was a brilliant man, and his actual discovery changed the world forever, he didn’t discover electricity, he merely discovered that lightning was a form of it, and also confirmed the concept of it requiring mediums to be conducted.

The earliest experiments with electricity were in fact employed by ancient physicians, who discovered that electric eels and electric catfish (a common denizen of the Nile river) produced a not entirely unpleasant tingling feeling in limbs when stood upon or held.

This tingling was discovered to provide therapeutic benefits to those suffering joint, nerve and muscle problems. Of course, these ancient physicians didn’t understand what electricity was, and the knowledge of biomechanics was basically nonexistent, but there was no arguing with results.

Across Europe, North Africa and Asia, ancient cultures employed these treatments for millennia, until the fall of Rome, where much medical knowledge faded to myth, mystery or became discounted as a legend for several centuries.

It was in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds when a revived interest in the mysterious force of electricity was revived, albeit initially for vaudeville performances where it allegedly was quite the crowd pleaser. We return now to Mr. Franklin, after his discovery of lightning’s electrical properties and a better understanding of metal as a conductor.

Mr. Franklin recalled the legends of electric animals providing healing and therapy, and built the first two primitive prototypes of the technology that would one day become TENS. They tended to cause mild electrical burns, generating power was purely done via static which was untenable, and other problems abounded, but the concept was definitely there.

Enter the industrial revolution, and the discovery of the electric dynamo, which can harness steam or fuel combustion to generate steady electrical current, and the popularization of basic electrical technologies by Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse. This force was partially understood on a scientific level, but not enough so to not be seen as a somewhat magical and healing force.

At the turn of the century, magazines were rife with ads for new gadgets said to promote health, fight aging, enhance fitness and everything else under the sun. This was the time when shock therapy also entered the scene – the ethics and usefulness of that remain a hot debate to this day. I myself am a detractor of that particular idea.

By the middle of the last century, a renewal of interest in electricity as medical treatment emerged. By the 1950s, American surgeon Dr. Karl William Edmark patented the first low-power shock machines intended to fight muscular atrophy and provide pain treatment.

By the late 70s, regulations for this technology were in place, and a real market for it (first in the military and in hospitals) was present.

iReliev Wireless Therapeutic Wearable TENS System

iReliev Wireless Therapeutic Wearable TENS System: photo

I think this is the best TENS system out there because it’s tremendously well-made, easy to use, very modern, convenient and portable. This is the unit I myself use, and I just can’t see recommending anything else over it.

Features/Included Components

  • Wireless Hand Control
  • USB Plug Adapter
  • Two wireless TENS/EMS Pods (Channel 1 Pairing)
  • Dual USB Charging wire
  • Two 3”x5” electrode pads.
  • Four pod decals for channel ID.
  • Instruction manual.
  • Quick start guide.
  • Carrying case.


This is an adjustable system with multiple channels easily set and controlled via a wireless handheld remote. Each electrode pod contains a rechargeable battery which delivers a localized power source, thus eliminating any need for wires and other clumsy, fragile issues.

They’re a bit bulky and stand out, making you look like a cyborg or a space traveler, but that’s a small sacrifice to make for the convenience of this unit, and the pain management power of TENS at large.

It allows 60 minutes per session for safety, with 8 pre-set TENS programs making it easy to quickly find a setting that works for you, and isn’t unpleasant.

Pros and Cons of Using TENS Units


  • Preprogrammed settings.
  • Wireless.
  • Affordable.
  • Rechargeable.
  • Inclusive of all you need.
  • USB compatible.
  • Secure.
  • Durable.


  • It looks odd when they’re attached to exposed parts of your body.
  • They’re big, making treating smaller surface areas a little more challenging, but rarely what you’d call impossible.

How Does TENS Work?

How does electricity actually help fight pain, though? Electricity generally doesn’t feel good, being either an odd tingle, or an unpleasant, painful experience, depending on voltage and amperage. We’ve all been zapped by an outlet once in our lives, or at least gotten a nasty static shock or two. It makes you swear, doesn’t it?

Well, the human body is pretty complex, and I’m not a doctor, but I’ll try to express this with the same comprehensive, elegant simplicity which my research and my own doctor have presented to me. Your body is a machine, using electrical signals for motion and for transmitting signals to and from the brain, where sensory is processed.

Yes, nerves are basically electrical wiring. Like many electrical circuits, these wires have various complexities that regulate the strength of signals traveling to the brain, either permitting it completely, preventing it altogether, or allowing a partial signal.

For now, we haven’t discovered a way to force these switches shut or partially shut for protracted periods of time, but we have discovered TENS can overload these, the pain signals being canceled out by the stronger, neutral one induced by the shock. Basically, the shock is louder than the pain, and is all the brain hears on that circuit path.

This also causes endorphins to be produced, which are a natural pain killing hormone the body produces. It’s the endorphins that can cause the pain to remain reduced after the TENS device is shut down. Of course, there’s a lot of complexity to this, far beyond the understanding of all but medical professionals, but that’s the short of it. It’s pretty cool, actually.

Indications for Use of a TENS Unit

TENS has been scientifically studied quite intensively, with actual, verifiable results for several medical conditions and pains being positively treated by use of this technology. It’s not a cure, nor a permanent way to stop pain, but is a very helpful addition to pain management plans, reducing the amount of narcotics and other pharmaceuticals you have to ingest per day.

  • Upper and Lower Back Pain – This is one I myself make avail of often. The worst of my arthritis is in my lower back, due to a pool injury when I was little, and damaged skeletal components being prone to the worst rheumatoid problems when that sets in. It has been documented that users of TENS for upper and lower back pain have greatly reduced the need for painkillers, visits to the doctor, and seeking of physical therapy. Did it work for everyone? No, sensitivity to pain from electrical shocks does vary, among other things. However, the positive results have been significant.
  • Joint Pain – This is another one that I suffer myself, and I can personally vouch for it working quite well to abate joint issues in my hands and shoulders, though I recommend not using it on your hands unless the pain is severe – it makes your fingers go haywire. Don’t take my word for it though, multiple trials have shown that, along with therapeutic exercise, the pain of joint deterioration can be better abated with TENS, with 70% of physicians being major proponents of its implementation.
  • Rehabilitation – During rehabilitation, physical therapy and a lot of specialized medications to aid in better, faster healing. Pain treatment is often difficult because various narcotic painkillers can interact badly with healing medications and recovery. TENS is an excellent substitution to help manage pain during this unpleasant recovery phase.
  • Improvement of Digestion – In India, scientists have researched the applicability of TENS to improving digestion and reducing gastroenterological problems. As someone who has suffered from acute gastroenteritis in the past, I wish I’d known TENS worked for this for about 45 out of 50 users. I was dubious about this, but it seems it’s a result of TENS stimulating the production of more saliva, which is a crucial enzyme for effective and painless digestion.
  • Muscle Spasms – TENS mode does not work on muscle spasms, but studies by the British National Health Service have revealed that EMS mode can actually help reduce the hardness, cramping and twitching of muscles by relaxing myofibrils and muscular plasma, theoretically due to resetting the electrical states present, and relaxing the signals produced by ganglial clusters.
  • Headaches and Migraines – Migraines are the worst ailment I have, and if you suffer from them too, it’s just the most miserable, incapacitating thing ever. A study conducted by Teheran scientists indicated that daily 15-minute treatments with TENS have reduced the severity of headaches and migraines when they do occur, due to stimulation of the trigeminal nerve, a major component in headaches.

TENS Unit Electrode Placement

Where to place TENS unit for neck pain

Don’t place TENS electrodes on your neck itself. I made this mistake, and the results were, shall we say, special, as I twitched and made all kinds of silly faces. Instead, apply them to the base of your neck, or on your shoulders near there, evenly spaced so that the signals approach both sides of the neck evenly and simultaneously.

Do not apply muscle creams or lotions before using these, unless it’s a gel or lubricant designed specifically for TENS/EMS usage, which do exist.

TENS unit electrodes for sciatica

I don’t suffer sciatica, but if it’s as bad or worse than the back pain I do suffer, then anything to alleviate this agony would surely be welcome. Unlike with your neck, you can place these directly where the pain is for sciatica, pressing on your back carefully to find the strongest points of pain, and affixing the electrodes.

Be sure that you’re not sweaty, as the human back does sweat a lot, and this could result in your whole back tensing up. It won’t hurt you, but it would be unpleasant, as I can attest to, and cause a mild sensation of panic from time to time.

TENS unit electrodes for headaches

Again, make sure your skin is dry because if the current travels in your face, it really sucks! It’s pretty easy to apply these for headaches though, on or near your temples, towards your forehead. This will help the trigeminal nerve stimulation I mentioned earlier, which, for reasons you shouldn’t ask me to attempt to explain, is a leading issue with headaches, especially migraines.

Keep these away from your eyes, as that can do some serious harm.


Will TENS unit help plantar fasciitis?
To an extent, any kind of pain like this can be managed via TENS, including plantar fasciitis, though this is one of the pains it’s less effective with, due to plantar fasciitis being an exceptionally insidious thing, and a painful one at that. Use it as a treatment, but don’t rely on it in this instance.

Are TENS unit pads interchangeable?
Many tend to be, and many more can be adapted with minimal effort, but no, there is no present standard for interface across these units. Again, though, the pads are just electrodes, with a positive and negative lead. Simple handiness with wire splicing (which you can become adept to with a single YouTube video) can make it possible for most of them to be adapted. It’s really not that hard.

Can TENS unit cause heart attack?
There is no documented case of TENS, used properly, inducing cardiac arrest. However, electrical shocks are not healthy for people with cardiovascular issues, so consult your doctor before using TENS/EMS if you’re a heart patient. Please, please consult your doctor because just because there are no cases of this happening, doesn’t mean it can’t. There’s a first time for everything, and I don’t want anyone to become that statistic, scientific benefit be damned.

Can I use TENS machine for sex?
Really? Well okay, it’s a normal thing to wonder, we’re all just mammals, right? It’s safe to use, and if you or your partner like the tingling and shocking sensation (my girlfriend is fond of toys that produce zaps), then yeah, you can use it. Some studies have indicated it can produce added sensation, intensity, and stronger orgasms, but be careful that it doesn’t mistakenly become painful.

Can I place electrodes on my penis to improve stimulation?
You can, but I really don’t think this is a fantastic idea because it’d have to be a very low setting, and it’s probably not going to feel as good as you hope. It could even result in temporary numbness, which wile great for stamina, is counterproductive to your pleasure. But you can try it, it won’t injure you, but whether or not it works for you and is enjoyable, is a coin toss. I for one wouldn’t want electricity directly applied to that particular bit of my anatomy.

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