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How to choose a TENS unit: 6 things to consider!

Over the last few years, TENS units have become very popular as a pain management therapy.  Many TENS units are available over the counter (OTC), but for people who are new to TENS therapy or those who have never tried TENS before, choosing a TENS unit can be tricky.

In order to help you choose the best TENS unit for your needs, we have listed some of the features you should look at before purchasing a TENS unit. For beginners, you can also check out our other articles to learn more about TENS units, and when TENS should be avoided.

How to Choose a TENS unit:

TENS is an abbreviation for “Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.” It’s a non-invasive, drug-free treatment to help control pain. TENS therapy can very helpful if you suffer from lower back pain, headaches, and even fibromyalgia. And although most TENS units are very small, they work in a complex way. TENS units alleviate pain by blocking pain signals to your brain, increasing the release of endorphins, and also improving blood circulation.

Most TENS units available on the market are digital units that come with a screen and a number of buttons and controls.  In order to help you choose a TENS unit, here are some useful tips and things to look at:


Most TENS units have different settings and modes, however, some cheaper models only allow a limited control, or only offer pre set programs. Having the ability to manually create modes and programs is very important, since different types of pain (and parts of the body) respond differently to the electrical pulses.  On the other hand, some people may find it difficult to manually create TENS programs, and in this case, it is preferable to choose a TENS unit that comes with a variety of pre set modes, and luckily most of them do. Some TENS units also have pre set modes for different parts of the body.

Power Level

The power level is the maximum intensity your TENS unit can produce. Because people tolerate stimulation and pain differently, choosing the right TENS unit is very important.

Most available TENS units can produce an electrical current up to 80mA; which may be too much for some people, but might not be sufficient for others. You should always choose a TENS unit that has a wide range of power levels, and remember to always start with the lowest levels and gradually increase the power if necessary.

Number of channels

Most TENS units on the market are dual channel with independent intensity controls.

Having a dual channel machine means that you can use two or four pads (electrodes) at a time, which is very useful if you need to treat different areas separately. You can also adjust the strength of treatment separately for each channel.


System and ease of use

Nowadays, TENS units have a small LCD screen, where you can check the settings and also get info on the program you’re using. Some TENS units have an easy to understand user interface, and some are simply too complicated. If you can’t test the TENS unit yourself, the best way to get some info on the user interface is to look at the reviews.

Also, some TENS units may be difficult to operate; so make sure that the controls are easy to access, if the unit have a cover over the controls to protect you from accidentally bumping the button, and also how easy is it to swap out the batteries, or how long it takes to fully recharge the battery if your unit comes with a rechargeable battery.


TENS units are usually powered by 9 volts or 3 AAA batteries, which means that when the battery runs out you need to buy another one to replace it. However, a lot of higher end TENS machines come with rechargeable batteries, which is always a good feature.

When looking at a TENS unit with a rechargeable battery, you should always make sure to check the battery life of the device. Most TENS units will last around 6 hours of continuous use after a full charge, but some can have a shorter battery life, which can be frustrating.

If you already own a TENS unit that doesn’t come with a rechargeable battery and you use it on a daily basis, the costs related to batteries can easily become a problem. A tip is to buy a separate set of external rechargeable batteries and use them with the TENS unit.

Warranty and Customer service

Like all electronic devices TENS units can break down overtime, and this can happen quickly with some cheaper models.  If you’re planning to keep your unit for a long time, you should make sure that the manufacturer stands with their product and if they offer warranty and customer support.