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Best TENS machine 2023: The best nerve stimulator machines to ease sciatica, labour and muscle pain

Our pick of the best TENS machines that can help tackle chronic pain, sports injuries, ease labour and more

If you suffer with chronic muscle pain, especially in the back, shoulders or knee joints, the best TENS machine could be a life-changer. The best TENS machines, which gently stimulate the muscles to ease cramps and pain, are also a great drug-free way to ease the pain of labour, sports injuries, painful periods, sciatica and other chronic muscle discomfort.

TENS (which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines work by sending electrical pulses across the surface of the skin to block pain. It’s a non-invasive way to manage pain, but as with all medical treatments, it’s best to discuss the use of a TENS machine with your GP before you buy. Your doctor may be able to recommend a particular machine for your condition, or even let you hire one to test it out.

Check our recommendations below to find the best TENS machine to suit your needs. Not sure what to look for? Read on for our buying guide.

Best TENS machines: At a glance

How to choose the best TENS machine for you

How does a TENS machine work?

TENS devices have a number of electrode pads, which you attach to the skin. Then the machine emits an electronic pulse to stimulate the nerves and block pain. It’s not painful, but it does produce a noticeable tingling sensation. This sensation is thought to play a role in preventing the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.

The most common TENS programmes use high-frequency stimulation. This has been proven to help with acute and chronic pain. High-frequency stimulation sends impulses to the nervous system’s own pain-inhibiting mechanisms, which block the pain. Although these treatments are safe to use for long periods, it is recommended treatments shouldn’t last longer than 90 minutes.

Some of the TENS machines in our list also offer what’s known as EMS, which stands for electrical muscle stimulation. Various types of electrical impulses are sent to the muscles, depending on the programme selected. These signals make the muscles contract to retrain them, increase their effectiveness and improve their condition. It’s a particularly popular training and rehabilitation technique in sports.

What kinds of physical condition is a TENS machine suitable for?

TENS machines are most often used by people with chronic musculoskeletal pain – most often back and shoulder pain – or women in pregnancy. Patients with conditions including carpal tunnel syndrome (from arthritis or repetitive strain), low back pain, shoulder impingement and inflammation, and chronic jaw pain have reported benefits from using a TENS machine. Knee joint pain is another common condition improved with TENS stimulation.

Some TENS machines are marketed for use in labour and childbirth as a drug-free alternative to pain relief, although there are limits to the pain relief that TENS can achieve in this situation.

When should I not use a TENS machine?

In general, TENS machines are a safe method of pain relief when used as prescribed; however, there are a few situations in which they should not be used. As TENS machines use electrical signals that can interfere with other electric devices, they are best avoided by patients with pacemakers. TENS machines should not be used on the head, eyes or the front of the neck; the electrode pads should also not be applied on broken skin, or used over a tumour. If you’re unsure, check with your GP before use and always follow the supplied directions.

For more information and guidance, see the NHS webpage on TENS, and read on for our roundup of the best TENS machines to buy.

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The best TENS machines you can buy in 2023

1. Med-Fit 1 Dual Channel TENS machine: Best budget TENS machine

Price: £32 | Buy now from Amazon

A simple, analogue TENS machine without some of the bells and whistles that pricier models include, this is a good basic introduction to TENS pain relief. Clip the small control unit onto a belt and place the adhesive pads on the area that needs treatment; the Med-Fit 1 has dual channels allowing two areas to be treated at the same time. The unit can be set to deliver your chosen pulse on a constant setting (best for new, acute injuries); or on either modulating or burst modes (for chronic pain). An easy-to-use, good-value TENS machine suitable for basic pain relief and ideal if you want to see if TENS works for you.

Key specs – Number of channels: 2 (4 pads); Controller: Analogue handset; Batteries: 9v PP3

2. TensCare Sport Tens 2: Best TENS machine for sports rehabilitation

Price: £54 | Buy now from Amazon A combined TENS/EMS massager that can be used on its TENS settings to reduce pain after training, and in EMS mode to massage and relax tired and strained muscles. There are 20 handy preset modes (10 TENS and 10 EMS) for small, medium and large muscle groups to ensure you get the most effective post-workout treatment, and a special Active Rest mode to aid muscle recovery by gently increasing blood flow to the area. With its range of preset and programmable options and easy-to-read digital display, the Sport Tens 2 will help you take the strain out of training whatever your game.

Key specs – Number of channels: 2 (4 pads); Controller: Digital handset; Batteries: 2 x AA

3. Auvon 4 Outputs TENS Machine: Best customisable TENS machine for multiple pain conditions

Price: £40 | Buy now from Amazon This affordable, multi-channel model from Auvon is exceptionally customisable, meaning it can be used to alleviate a variety of pains and conditions. With four outputs, the device can channel electrical stimulation to up to four separate body parts at the same time, and the mode and intensity of each channel can also be adjusted independently of each other.

There are 24 modes to choose from, so there’s a setting for every type of pain relief or rehabilitation goal, and you can apply up to eight pads (two per channel) at one time. The Auvon comes with extra pads, has a surprisingly long battery life and is backed up by a 12-month warranty for peace of mind. It seems a shame that the display isn’t a touchscreen, as the controls would be more intuitive, but otherwise this is an exceptionally versatile machine that promises to provide ongoing pain relief, whether you’ve got one ailment or several.

Key specs – Number of channels: 4 (8 pads); Controller: Digital handset; Batteries: Rechargeable lithium

4. Babycare Elle TENS machine: Best TENS machine to soothe labour pain

Price: £70 | Buy now from Amazon

One of the most popular TENS devices safe for use during pregnancy and labour, the Babycare Elle can be used in the run-up to childbirth when late-pregnancy pains and Braxton-Hicks contractions start kicking in. The device will also take the edge off early labour contractions until you arrive at the hospital or birth centre.

Four wired adhesive pads can be placed on the lower back during labour – or anywhere else you feel soreness after the birth – and four preset modes (including two frequency boosts to use during contractions) make operation simple when your mind is occupied with bigger and scarier things. Note that, in line with many TENS machines, the Babycare Elle is not suitable for use in birthing pools.

Key specs – Number of channels: 2 (4 pads); Controller: Digital handset; Batteries: 2 x 1.5v AA

5. Beurer EM49 PainFree Digital TENS and EMS Machine: Best TENS machine for recurrent pain

Price: £55 | Buy now from Amazon This easy-to-use model is great for those with more long-term pain problems. It’s as versatile as they come, with 70 different modes, including a powerful massage function and a Doctor’s Function that lets you save your own custom settings for ease of use. That means you can quickly start up the machine and get right to work on those recurring trouble spots, without the need to mess with any settings.

Although the keys can feel a bit fiddly at times (especially the lock button), the sturdy overall build quality of the Beurer matches the premium price. And with so many settings, you’re able to opt for less intense, more relaxing treatments than you would find from most cheaper models. If you want a machine to provide reliable and relaxing pain relief, the Beurer EM49 is a great one to pick.

Key specs – Number of channels: 2 (4 pads); Controller: Digital handset; Batteries: 3 x AAA

6. Med-Fit Wireless Dual Channel Rechargeable TENS Machine: The best TENS machine for convenience

Price: £72 | Buy now from FBA Discounts If cumbersome batteries of all shapes and sizes are something that you would rather do away with, look no further than this rechargeable Med-Fit unit. It has an internal battery, powered via USB, that runs for eight hours per charge, and the company claims that the battery will last for over 1,000 sessions in total.

There are four set programmes, with an adjustable 20 levels of intensity, to get an accurate reading quickly and easy. There are no wires to contend with either, just wirelessly connected pads to assess the painful areas and provide accurate relief. The unit is strong enough to ease pain and tension in your back, neck, shoulders, feet, knees and head.

Key specs – Number of channels: 2 (4 pads); Controller: Digital handset; Batteries: Lith-ion

Buy now from FBA Discounts

7. PowerDot 2.0 Smart TENS Machine: Best TENS machine with smartphone functionality

Price: £175 (Uno) | Buy now from John Lewis PowerDot has taken something of a more high-tech approach with this lightweight and portable system that connects to your handset via Bluetooth and to yourself with slimline pads and wires. Everything is controlled by an easy-to-use application that offers ten different modes of operation for muscle recovery, pain relief and relaxation. The PowerDot 2.0 can be purchased in red or black, and there are two packages to choose from: the Uno, which has one pod and two attachment pads; or the Duo, which has two pods and four pads, similar to a conventional quad-channel TENS machine.

While pricey, the app itself is likely to be the main draw for the unit as it allows for a more specific reading of where the pain/discomfort is on a scale from 1-10; once set by the user, the app will automatically start a programme that’s suitable, effectively eliminating any guesswork while also being intuitive and straightforward.

Key specs – Number of channels: 2 (Uno), 4 (Duo); Controller: Smartphone; Batteries: Lith-ion

Buy now from John Lewis

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