TENS and EMS units are a must for serious athletes. They also have been proven to be helpful for recovery and pain management. However, they have also been shown to be helpful in training muscle movement and growth.
EMS stands for electro muscle stimulation and stimulates muscles to contract. Its main use is by athletes and those who workout. This type of electrotherapy strength and endurance by improving muscle performance. It can decrease recovery time, so you train for harder and longer. EMS can also help with pain relief.
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation. It is used for pain management. The tingling sensation that the electric impulse creates tricks the brain and confuses the pain signals.
The therapies both use leads that send an electrical impulse, so it’s easy for manufacturers to make units that are both EMS and TENS units. You’ll see many combo units on the market. They make a great choice as there is often a crossover between muscle and nerve function. In addition, since the units cover such a wide range of conditions, having a unit that provides both therapies is a great choice. For example, anyone that works out can benefit by having an EMS unit. However, you may also suffer from a persistent sports injury that would be helped by a TENS therapy for pain management.
Things To Consider When Getting a TENS/EMS Unit
A major consideration is cost. Units vary in cost ranging from as little as $20 to units that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Look out for the types of pre-set programs built into each unit. If you are primarily looking for a pain relief option, then you’ll want to have a wide range of TENS programs. Conversely, athletes should choose a unit with more EMS programs. For instance, many devices will have programs that are designed for recovery, exercise prep, building endurance, etc.
A further function to look out for is if the unit is dual (or multi) channel, which most people opt for. Single channel machines can only be used with two pads, and only allows you to use in one area of the body at once. Using a dual (or multi) channel allows you to use the pads in separate areas of the body simultaneously.
There is an option of choosing a wireless or wired device. A wired device will have electrical wires connecting the electrical pads to the unit. A wireless device means that there are no wires connecting the electrical pads to the device. A wireless device is often more expensive. However, with a wireless device, you don't have to worry about the wires getting tangled up. Also, a wireless device will give you the ability to use it while exercising or practicing your technique.
There are also units on the market with four channels known as a quad channel. These units with eight pads allow you to treat a large area, or eight separate pain points.
Don’t be tempted to buy a TENS machine from dubious sources. The market is flooded with cheaper Chinese knock-offs of these devices. At best, these machines won’t last long before they break. You won’t be able to fall back on any warranty. The devices won’t have FDA approval and could even be dangerous.
TENS Plus EMS Combo Units Comparison Chart
Rating and Unique Features
FlexHeat Tens EMS Unit with Heat
-Only device on list with heat therapy
Compex Wireless USA 2.0 Muscle Stimulator
-Has 6 channels, with 16 pods
IReliev ET-8080 Premium Wired IReliev TENS Unit + EMS
-Larger display than ET-7070 model
iReliev ET-7070 TENS + EMS Unit
-Most cost effective
Playmakar Pro 1000
-4 channels with 4 pods, with option to expand to more pods
Tenstim TENS Unit/Muscle Stimulator
-As powerful as some commercial devices
HiDow TENS Unit AcuXPD-S
-Has mode to mimic acupuncture
1. Tenstim TENS Unit Plus Muscle Stimulator
This combo stim machine from Tenstim is a great quality choice with a full two-year warranty. This smart looking unit comes in either black or silver and features a superior large LCD display with LED back light. It’s also the lightest weight unit at a tiny 1.76 ounces.
The dual unit can be used for a host of at-home therapies. There are a huge 18 different modes for all kinds of programming including bodybuilding and 20 intensity levels.
It comes complete with a set of large and extra large pads which can be placed on the pad board after use, thus saving money on replacements. Additionally, the unit also comes with an ear clip to treat sinus and ear infections.
- Includes a pad board, so you won’t have to replace pads as frequently.
- Includes ear clip to treat sinus and ear conditions.
- Dual control to treat two areas of the body simultaneously.
- 2 year warranty.
- More expensive than some units.
2. iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator (Model ET 7070)
iReliev are a trusted name when it comes to TENS units and are used and vetted by many physical therapists. The 7070 model makes an excellent choice for those wanting to purchase a reputable iReliev unit at a midpoint price. It still offers a full 14 programs, 8 TENS programs, including one for arthritis and 6 EMS programs.
iReliev are super confident that you’ll benefit from their unit that they offer a 14 business day refund from the date you receive your shipment.
- Money-back guarantee
- Great price
- Same 14 programs as premium model
- Heavier than the premium model
- No back-lit screen
3. Playmakar Pro 1000
Playmakar is the new kid on the block in terms of muscle and nerve stimulation. The company has a lot of marketing money behind it and is trying to be the go-to device for athletes.
The device is wireless, meaning that it is convenient to use when you are practicing.
The unit has wireless pads with 25 levels of adjustable intensity. The device comes with 4 wireless pods you can attach to each pad. The wireless pods allow you to program different settings for each pad. The rechargable device will get you about 3-5 hours of battery life per pod, or 5-10 hours of battery life if you use the hand control. Playmakar makes the device modular so that you can add extra pods to use.
Instead of dual channel, Playmakar decides to step it up a notch and make their device 4 channels! And since it comes with 4 pads, you can program each pad independently. What's even better is that it is made to be expandable, so you can opt to get more pads and pods if you want.
- Contains 4 wireless pods that you can program independently
- 4 channels
- 14 pre-set programs (6 EMS and 8 TENS).
- 25 intensity levels
- Truly wireless device
- Extra pods are expensive
4. iReliev Premium ET-8080 Wired TENS unit and EMS device
Just like the iReliev 7070 model this device has the same 14 programs for both pain relief, muscle conditioning, strength, endurance, exercise warm up and muscle recovery.
The premium model, however, boasts a large digital display with a back-lit screen. It’s also a full 11 ounces lighter, weighing in at just 2.07 ounces. This model looks more attractive than the 7070 model, it’s also rechargeable and comes with a tote bag.
- Large back-lit display
- Super lightweight
- Includes clear belt clip and tote bag
- More expensive than the 7070 model
5. HiDow TENS unit AcuXPD-S
The HiDow is a sleek state-of-the-art unit that can be used both athletes and those who require pain relief for everyday pain.
The device is perfect for all kinds of therapy including circulatory conditions, muscle injury, prolonged bed rest, stress incontinence, and Bell’s palsy. The device includes 1 set of large and 1 set of extra large pads in addition to a pad board and ear clips.
- Includes ear clip for sinus and ear conditions.
- Includes 4 sets of pads including 1 set of XL pads.
- State-of-the-art design.
- Large display.
- Steeper learning curve than other units
6. Compex Wireless 2.0 USA Muscle Stimulator Kit with TENS
This EMS with TENS muscle stimulator is for the serious athlete. It features 6 different channels with 16 wireless pods. The pods are attached to electrodes only meaning you can exercise on the go with this wireless unit. This is the top-of-the range unit from Compex with individual programs designed for endurance, resistance, strength, explosive strength, pre-warm up, active recovery, competition recovery, muscle relaxation, potentiation and a TENS program for pain management.
This is a unit designed for those seeking to be at the top of their chosen sport and field. The Compex unit will allow you to build muscle size and density and increase athletic performance. The ten programs have five progression modes and the device is backed by a two-year warranty.
- Wireless unit with 16 pods
- 10 carefully designed programs for the athlete from pre-warm up to recovery.
- 6 different channels provide variety in treatment options
- Helps build muscle, endurance, and athletic ability.
- Lack of clear instructions in manual
7. FlexHeat by Flextone TENS Unit with Heat
The FlexHeat TENS unit takes pain relief to the next level. Research proves that TENS combined with heat is more effective. If you are suffering from chronic pain including diabetic neuropathy, back pain, and arthritis, this makes an excellent choice.
The device has 8 modes which you can pre-select for different conditions. You can also customize pain relief with dual channel controls, 20 intensity levels, 3 different heating modes options along with 2 comforting heat settings . Additionally, you can use the heat settings on its own without the TENS programs. The soothing heat and TENS mode make this device ideal for childbirth as well.
- Includes heat therapy which is proven to improve the performance and pain relief capabilities.
- 100% satisfaction guarantee.
- Bonus travel pouch.
- Excellent choice for chronic pain such as arthritis.
- When using the heat facility the unit will need to be recharged soon after use.