We live in a consumer-driven culture, and sometimes that makes things tricky. If you’re looking for a new sweater, great! You have options! But if you’re looking for something like a TENS unit or a combination TENS + EMS unit, you need more than the right size and color. You need efficiency, practicality, strength, safety and so much more. And with so many choices, this introduces several more variables into the shopping experience.
What Should I Look For in a TENS Unit or Muscle Stimulator?
When most people shop online, they look for user reviews to tell them what works best. But even user reviews can be faulty. This is because many large online shopping channels have affiliate programs that bribe users to write biased reviews. Because of this, it’s not the best idea to choose your electrotherapy based solely on TENS unit reviews.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of great products out there with genuine TENS unit reviews from people who are benefitting from their use. But, it helps to have a little understanding of what makes a quality TENS or EMS unit. With a little basic education on what to look for, you can use both the reviews and a product’s features to help you find the TENS unit that’s right for you. Here are some of the features you should consider.
Does TENS Or EMS Device Offer Enough Output Intensity?
When you’re looking at a TENS unit, there are two numbers you should take note of. These will be the numbers that represent the output strength and the intensity settings. The output strength is what determines the strength of the electrical impulses that the TENS or EMS machine will be using for the therapy. These impulses are the basis of the machine’s functionality. In a TENS machine, they are responsible for stimulating the nerve endings and in an EMS machine, they are responsible for stimulating the muscles.
Output strength is measured in mA. A small output number may not be adequate enough for some treatments, so make sure it’s closer to 100mA. iReliev’s TENS pain relief system boasts 80mA of power, which is high on the range of output strength available in TENS units.
The number that shows the intensity settings will indicate how many levels of output strength the unit offers. Over the counter TENS units are made safe for home use in a number of ways (more on that soon). One way this is done is by creating pre-programmed settings that allow users to find exactly the right level of intensity based on these settings.
You will want to find a unit that offers a sufficient range of output options. The more options a unit has, the more specific you can make your therapy. For instance, iReliev’s TENS + EMS unit offers 25 output intensity settings despite its compact size. Some of the TENS unit reviews may make mention of various settings and how well they work.
Is the Stimulator Portable?
Can the TENS unit or muscle stimulator you’re looking at be used on the go or just at home? The aspect of portability is another thing that makes some TENS units or EMS muscle stimulators more desirable over others. Smaller, battery-powered units are often designed to use on-the-go, at work, or even during workouts. Some devices may come with accessories that make it even easier to apply hands-free therapy. For instance, iReliev’s TENS + EMS Unit comes with belt clips designed for increased portability and can be worn on your belt or easily placed in your pocket.
Is the Device Intended to be Used Over-The-Counter (OTC)?
One major question you should be asking is, “Has this TENS unit been cleared for over-the-counter (OTC) sales?” Unfortunately, many online and eCommerce companies are selling electrotherapy units that are not meant for OTC use. Not only is this illegal but it is also dangerous. As mentioned earlier, OTC units are designed specifically for intuitive and safe home-use. However, prescription devices are not. What distinguishes these two types of devices is not common knowledge, and not something you’ll find in TENS unit reviews.
Simply put, it’s a registration with the FDA that makes it possible for consumers to distinguish between OTC and prescription devices. In order to be approved for OTC sales, a product must register with the FDA. Companies must also apply for a 510(k), also known as a “premarket submission” where a company demonstrates how a product works safely and efficiently. Consumers can search for products in the public database available on the FDA’s website to determine whether or not a TENS unit is safe for OTC use.
You can read more about the difference between OTC and prescription devices here.
Does the Device Have a Treatment Timer?
A few devices go so far as to build in a treatment timer as an extra feature. Treatment timers are just what they sound like—they allow users to set their treatment time and turn off the device automatically when treatment is finished. This means that users can relax during treatment without worrying about the time. Treatment timers also protect from the possibility of leaving a TENS or EMS unit on for too long. While there isn’t really a limit to how often you can use TENS safely, you should in any case give yourself regular breaks to protect the skin. It’s probable that users will make mention of a treatment timer feature in the TENS unit reviews. Just know that this is a valuable feature to have.
How Many Output Channels are Available?
One last thing that can distinguish a decent TENS unit from an excellent one are the number of output channels it offers. Some units will only offer a single channel while others might offer dual channels. The necessity really depends on where on your body you intend to use the TENS unit or EMS device.
For example, for smaller body parts like wrists, elbows or ankles, it may only be necessary to use 2 small electrode pads only which can be accomplished with a single channel unit. However, if you want the device to cover larger body parts like the back, knee or shoulder, generally speaking, four pads (two pads per channel) is better. Some TENS unit reviews may make mention of this, while other users may not realize how beneficial it is to have multiple channels or the benefit of having a single or dual channel unit.
For instance, iReliev’s TENS + EMS Unit offers dual channels, and comes with two large electrode pads and four small electrode pads. With two different channels and multiple electrode sizes, it’s easy to customize your treatment. Smaller electrode pads allow you to focus the treatment on one very specific area. Larger ones let you cover more ground. And, with two channels, you can change the intensity between each set of electrodes. This is a great advantage to have over less versatile TENS units. The more specific your treatment is to you, the more benefits you’ll gain.