Suffering from chronic pain, perhaps in the joints, back or other areas where it can be common, is a debilitating and problematic experience for many people. There can be many causes – ageing is a primary cause of arthritis, for example – and reasons, but there is always one thing that is required: pain relief.
The world of medicine has come a long way in a short time, with synthesised drugs that are very effective now readily and cheaply available, and many examples of chronic pain are easily controlled this way. For those who don’t want to – or can’t – take such drugs, there is another method of pain control that is becoming more popular.
This is the TENS machine; it stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It sounds alarming, but is really a very simple idea. We will discuss more about how a TENS machine works in detail in a moment, but for a simple idea, it uses electrical stimulation of the nerves via a small device attached to the body.
We are electrical beings, after all, so the idea is entirely logical. It should be said that there is some controversy regarding TENS – not in terms of danger, as it is entirely safe, but there are people who are doubtful as to its effectiveness. However, the numbers of people claiming it is effective – and using it on a regular basis – grows all the time.
Before we go on to examine the top 10 TENS machines available right now, let’s go over how – and why – a TENS machine works, and look at who might benefit from one.
How It Works
Table of Contents
- 1 How It Works
- 2 The Top 10 Best TENS Machines
- 2.1 1: Med-Fit 1 Dual Channel
- 2.2 2: Lloyds Pharmacy Dual Channel
- 2.3 3: LIVIVO Digital Tens Machine
- 2.4 4: Kinetik Wellbeing Dual Channel
- 2.5 5: Lloyds Pharmacy Digital TENS Machine
- 2.6 6: TENS Care Touch Dual Channel
- 2.7 7: Heiyo Tens Machine
- 2.8 8: Vivo TENS Machine
- 2.9 9: ACEVIVI TU58 TENS
- 2.10 10: Bodyclock Health Care TENS
- 3 Important Features to Consider
- 4 Which to Choose
So, what is a TENS machine, and how does it work? Plus, will it do the job for you? These are all valid questions to ask of a relatively new technology. In truth, the use of electricity in medicine is not new, but this idea draws on the fact we are governed by our nerves.
The device takes the form of a small box that the user wears, with wires that attach by pads to the body in chosen places. TENS machines send a series of controlled electrical pulses to the nerves – at carefully chosen and specified frequencies and time periods – that are designed to stimulate the nerves.
They work using what is known as the ‘Gate Control’ theory of pain; this goes that there is a gate, effectively, between the central nervous system and the brain. The gate opens to send messages that make us feel pain. The impulses the TENS device produces are believed to stimulate nerves that effectively close the gate, thus blocking the pain.
Patients who use a TENS machine are usually sufferers of chronic pain – back and knee pain are the common uses – and they report effective results. The pulse rate can be altered for different treatments, and the way they can be used varies.
Before we go on, it is important to say that – as with all medical treatments – it is essential to seek advice from a doctor. A TENS machine is safe and harmless, but there may be situations where one should not be used, so professional advice is strongly recommended.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 TENS machines on the market right now.
The Top 10 Best TENS Machines
Our first model is entirely typical of the breed, and is what you should expect from a standard type of TENS machine. It operates on two channels, which gives it the advantage of being able to treat two areas at once, and it is a neatly designed package that is lightweight and will be comfortable to wear. You get various adjustments, too, so the effectiveness is enhanced throughout.
This model comes with quality pads, so you get the very best results, is equipped with a full range of possible pulse frequencies, and can be adjusted for both pulse width and length. This allows for greater application and use. It also has various pulse modes, so is suitable for a number of ailments. You get a strong belt clip for when wearing and in use, too, and at a little under £30 it may not be the cheapest, but it is a quality device.
Pros: multiple modes, fully adjustable, lightweight
Cons: none, but it’s not the cheapest
Another dual channel model – it is the preferred choice – this one comes from Lloyds Pharmacy, one of the biggest names in medical equipment and supplies. This is a suitably lightweight model and comes recommended for shoulder, back and joint pain, and is easy to wear and simple to use, too. The makers say it can be used alongside medication; while this is generally the case, we do recommend you take advice from a professional.
This model comes with a full 25 adjustable intensity levels, which should be enough to handle any requirement, and four adhesive pads. It may be necessary to purchase additional pads, plus the batteries are not included with this model. All in all, it’s a neat design, and one that comes recommended by satisfied users, and at not much more than £15 is one of the cheaper options.
Pros: cheap, name brand, 25 levels, dual-channel
Cons: batteries not included, only four pads
One of the recurring warnings we come across with these devices is that they are not recommended for women who are pregnant, or for anyone wearing a pacemaker of other implanted device. The latter may be affected by the electrical impulses, so do not use if this is you! This model is a typical one but is only single channel, is slightly clunky to use – perhaps not as simple as some others – yet is a decent weight and comfortable to wear.
You get eight different treatment levels – not as many as some – plus an easy to read screen showing you what is happening all the time, and it is nicely shaped for handling, plus it comes with a strong belt clip so is easy to wear. You do need to add the batteries with this one, so that’s a little extra, and there are only four pads, but at around £10 it is certainly worth a look.
Pros: light, cheap, strong clip
Cons: only eight settings, batteries needed
Quality often shines through in products such as these, and this one is a prime example. This model feels well-made, looks the part, and is neatly packaged, and although you will pay a bit more for it than some of these, we feel it is well worth the effort. It’s a dual-channel model so fully versatile, and comes with an easy to use set up and all the functions you need for effective pain relief.
With 20 intensity levels for each channel, and eight different modes plus a timer that can range between 10mins and an hour, you can set this one up for any sort of use, and it will do the job via four quality pads. Designed in association with St John Ambulance – a fine credential – you also get the benefit of USB recharging, which gives added convenience. This is a great device, and at £30 may be more expensive than some but is the real deal.
Pros: quality, all the functions, USB charging
Cons: just the price, but we think it’s worth it
Another from the Lloyds group, this one is a budget model in many ways, but it does the job it is intended to. It is cheap, and it looks it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective; however, it is single channel – so only suitable for treating one area at a time – and it comes with only two pads as a result.
You do get the full range of adjustments, however, so it can handle the ailments it is intended to help, and it is powered by two batteries that do not come with the unit. It is very light so will be comfortable to wear, comes with a belt clip, and is very easy to use. Overall, it’s a decent package if somewhat lacking compared to some of the others here, but at around £10 it is very cheap if you want a simple, budget TENS machine.
Pros: cheap, simple, does the job
Cons: single channel, only two pads, batteries needed
This model is comprehensive in its ability, and is a dual-channel machine with each separate channel being controlled independently. This allows you to treat two different areas at the same time, with differing levels of intensity where required. It’s easy to use, too, and comes with four quality pads – you can choose whether to use them all or just a pair – and is fully adjustable.
15 levels of intensity on each channel is more than enough to make sure you can treat each of your areas of problems to adequate effect, and the control unit is light and comes with a handy belt clip for carrying. For added simplicity, there are seven pre-set programmes, so you can just switch on and go with no problems. It does cost you around £30, but for what you get, we think this is one of the best on our list.
Pros: effective, dual channel, many intensities, ease of use
Cons: none, but it’s more expensive than some
The basis of the TENS treatment idea has its roots in Chinese medicine, and this model is designed to make the most of that. It is a dual channel model that the makers advise is very good for recovery after sports, as it has a massage feature that makes it a little different to some of the others here. It’s a neat machine, well-designed and put together, and comes with all the features.
It comes with seven settings and four speeds so should be adjustable to all needs, and is also operable via Bluetooth from a mobile thanks to a dedicated app. You get four pads for multiple area use, and they are quality pads too, and it is easy to set up use, plus light to carry. We like the overall design and operation of this one, and at not much more than £15 we also think it is good value, so one for the short list.
Pros: good design, Bluetooth, massage feature, quality, price
Cons: none, it’s good
This model is a typical one but is only single channel, is slightly clunky to use – perhaps not as simple as some others – yet is a decent weight and comfortable to wear. It comes with all the adjustable features you need, and is a simple and solid device. Make no mistake it’s a budget model, but it does the job.
You get eight different treatment levels – not as many as some – plus an easy to read screen showing you what is happening all the time, and it is nicely shaped for handling, plus it comes with a strong belt clip so is easy to wear. Unusually, the batteries are included with this one, which means that at less than £10 it is certainly worth considering, especially if you want to find out if TENS works for you.
Pros: light, cheap, strong clip, batteries
Cons: only single channel, others more sophisticated
We will begin this review by saying that this model is among the very best here, so you really should put it high on your shortlist if you are looking to invest in a TENS device. It’s dual channel with eight pre-programmed settings, so can be used straight away and in more than one place at once, and it comes with eight pads, too, which makes it even more versatile than most.
You also get 20 different levels of intensity, a 60-minute timer so you can set it away and it will work as and when you want, and it has a massage feature. It’s presented in a neat, stylish box that is a no-frills design and with easy to use controls, and comes with a rechargeable battery that offers up to 10 hours on one full charge. Put simply, it does everything you expect a TENS device to do, and at under £25 is not expensive.
Pros: all the features, massage, rechargeable, easy to use, 8 pads
Our final model is by far the most expensive of the lot, and to be fair, we’re not sure why. It will cost you around £50, and while it is very good – you get all the features you need in a neat and well-designed unit – we feel there are others on our list that do the job just as well. Oddly, this one is marketed as ‘ideal for labour’, and is recommended by midwives as a pain reliever, so that aspect is worth considering.
It is a highly adjustable device with a wide variety of settings, and it is easy to use and very versatile, and it comes with extra-large pads for comfort, and a special Boost setting that adds pulses for when experiencing contractions. It is quite specific in its aim, therefore, and perhaps not as broad in application as some of the others on this list. Nevertheless, it’s very good, if quite expensive.
Pros: recommended for labour, boost feature, large comfortable pads, ease of use
Cons: expensive in comparison
That’s our list of the ten best TENS machines, so before we offer you our verdict, here’s a summary of the features you need to look out for.
Important Features to Consider
What do you need to look for in a TENS device? Well, the primary aim is pain control, so here’s a quick run-down of what features you need to enable effective results.
- Functions – you need a full range of frequency adjustments plus time controls, and these do vary between the models on the list so make sure you check carefully before you buy.
- Ease of use – you want a TENS machine that is easy to use; look for pre-set programmes so you can simply plug in and go, and you have the most convenient pain relief device available.
- Portable – you want your TENS machine to be small and light, with a belt clip so you can wear it comfortably.
- Pads – all TENS machines use pads attached to the body, some come with more than others so choose your best option.
- Channels – some of these are dual channel models that can attend to pain in more than one area at a time, and this is highly recommended over a single channel model.
That’s our list of things to look for, so which one out of the ten do we recommend?
Which to Choose
Choosing the best TENS machine for you involves considering a wide variety of factors: how serious are you about using it is the first question. If you want to try TENS and see if it works – it doesn’t for everyone, so you should test first – then there are a couple of budget models for less than £10 that will be perfect for you.
If you find it does work, or already use TENS and want a better model, we can’t help but recommend the ACEVIVI model – number 9 on our list; it comes with all the features, is fully equipped, well-designed and made and is sensibly priced, and we reckon it does the job as well as any.
So, that’s our list and verdict, but remember, get medical advice before you decide to use a TENS Machine, and if it is suitable for you, it may be the best pain relief you have ever experienced.