Product Review: Care TENS Unit


“You are going to stick what where and then put electricity through it to help my pain levels?” was my first reaction to a tens unit when used during physical therapy. The idea of putting patches with electrodes on my shoulder or any where on my body and then running electricity through it for fun had me seriously questioning what was left of my sanity. It turned out to be the best decision I have made to date, pain management wise.

TENS is a non-invasive, safe nerve stimulation intended to reduce pain, both acute and chronic. For home devices, it requires a doctor’s prescription and you must be under the care of a physician. Not exactly a problem for those of us handling chronic diseases. Your doctor or physical therapist shows you exactly where to put the patches and you determine the level of intensity depending on how bad your pain is on any given day. The home devices are portable so you can take it with you, inside and outside.

The price will vary based on model and type of health insurance you carry. but most offices I have noticed will work with you. For myself, it has brought my pain levels down to more manageable levels and made my days at least a little better. Now if they just invent a device to raise my energy levels without all the side effects, I would be set.

I give this product 5 spoons for ease of use and pain relief.

Article written by staff writer, Christina Stevens

Christina is married with 3 young children while managing moderate to severe Rheumatoid Arthritis. While technically a stay at home mom, she volunteers as instructor chair for a weekend event with Women in the Outdoors, an amateur radio operator and writer. You can find her on twitter at @ss_sunset or on Facebook at CSSunset.

  • Bobby Sue

    I have had the same experience and it is not the tens unit that is causing it. The stimulation of those muscles that are so tight and have so much fascia over them is what caused the nausea and vomiting. It is worth trying again!!

  • jamie

    After 3 surgerys in my ankle I’ve had alot of complications with my ankle! The draw wanted to me to come in for a fitting for a 10’s unit so I did hoping it wouldp, but instead I couldn’t even feel it all. So he put it on 24 ad still nothing so he took one of the patches and put it on hos arm because he thought maybe it was defective or something and turned it on he put it on 6 and asked me again if I could feel it and I couldn’t. He left the room to talk to a nurse and came back and asked me if I could feel it yet and I asked feel wat he said the machine I said I’m no I didn’t even know it was still on! But now an hour or 2 after the appointment my whole right leg was throbbing and felt like it was on fire and now I have a he’d time walking anywhere even 2 feet and I wake up crying cause I’m in so much pain! Any advice?

  • Mrs.Williams

    I have Severe Scoliosis, I was told I need Spinal Fusion as it is I’m 24 and it’s a major surgery with too many what ifs. So rather than continue taking Pain Meds that barely work and put me in a bad mood I stopped everything at the beginning of the year and finally my doctor suggest the Empi Tens Unit the other day – because I work 12 hour shifts and my pain is going through the roof. Mine charges with a wall charger and clips to the outside of what looks like a back support belt – ya know the velcro ones? It specifically states NOT to use near Microwaves, or in a car. The box hooks up to the gel pads which go on the electrode conductors on the belt and you strap the belt on and control the electrical impulses with an up and down button. You can barely feel the little buzzing unless you sit up against something (or at least I can’t). I used it for an hour for the first time the night before last and I noticed my spasms, Sciatica, and cramping in my back were’nt as bad at work so that was nice. It was encouraging and I’m gonna start using it regularly every day. Hoping it helps : )

  • Agaslan

     Your pads may not be connected to your skin causing the electricity to jump the gap, this happened to me when i first began using one

  • Maykc816

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  • Tammy

    Most TENS units have a pulse-rate setting. It could be that yours is set to a low number, which would space the zaps pretty far apart. I’ve never personally experienced the type of setting you mentioned. I have mine on right now, and if I wasn’t in so much pain, I’d play with that setting to see what happens! 🙂 Here’s a great PDF guide I just found though. Hope it helps:

  • Vrodriguez237

    Just picked mine up from my pain specialist.  Had a very brief demonstration and kept it on as I left the office.  The electrodes were placed on my upper neck for cervical disc pain radiating down left shoulder, arm and hand.  The next day I felt sick as it caused my Fibromyalgia in my neck to spasm and I felt like I was choking. Won’t be putting it in that area and will go with a lower setting.  Hoping this will work.

  • Susan

    I have been using a Tens unit for a few weeks now. The first unit I received gave me strong, random ‘shocks’ 5 to 14 times throughout the day. The company customer service dept. had never heard of this happening to anyone and replaced the unit but the second unit is doing the same thing. Has this happened to anyone else? Also, it eats a battery a day. I use it for chronic nerve pain in my foot and so far it is only giving me minimal relief – I’m thinking it’s not worth the trouble and the sudden shocks.

  • Sue

    I bought a mini wireless TENS machine a few days ago and have been using it as i have pain in my SI joint , have visited a chiropractor before but cant afford to go again at the minute as i am not working I did think shall i see an oesteopath??? but again its the cost ……. I too have felt sick a few times and have gone off eating???? it has helped me sleep longer though !!! i dont know if its going to help or not , my pain is still quite strong

  • Jeanette

    I used the TENS machine at PT, and about 2-3 hours later I had sharp electric pain on my left side every 3 minutes for about 3 seconds for 45 minutes and then a few more times throughout the evening; the next morning i woke and when i attempted to get up; the stabbing sharp pain went across my back from bottom right to top left for about 2 seconds and then went away; any explanation for that or could it be the same as why it can cause nausea?

  • Andrea


    Mine also says to not use it while driving, but I do anyway. My PT once told me she thot maybe they said that in case it gave you an extra ZAP and caused an accident. (I got a jolt once when an electrode pulled apart, but thank goodness I was in the grocery store and all that happened was I yelled and embarassed myself).

  • Tammy

    I L-O-V-E my Tens unit! Sometimes I forget to use it, and then I remember “I can get immediate relief from that thing” and I hook it up instantly! It’s better than pain meds I think. The one thing I don’t like about it is the relief can be short term.

  • Susan

    I had a TENS unit for a while a few years ago for my Spinal Stenosis, the portable unit is ok and helps me a little bit. There is an internal unit that they put in right under the skin and the wires are put directly into your spinal nerves, they wake you up and ask you about your pain while they are checking where to put leads and levels, etc… There is a temporary one that you use for 10 days to make sure it works for your pain and everything. Then if it all works then you can get the “permanent” one put in. The messed up side is that it is so expensive!! I am on Medicare and for me the trial one and then the perm one will cost me (my 20%) around $10,000!!!!! $3,000 for the trial and $7,000 for the perm one. Yikes! I do have BC and BS that we pay a fortune for- but of course anything that has to do with my back is a pre-existing condition!!! I am ‘To young’ to get any surgery done one my back. But I have been one a enormous concoction of pain meds for the last 9 years between my Endometriosis, all my surgeries and my hysterectomy at 28 for that and all of my stupid back pain all I get is injections that don’t help and drugs. I just want my life back. Any life back, I want my kids to not ask me why I am “lazy” and why I “always have to sit down all of the time!”!!!

  • C.E.

    I love the TENS machines! They worked so well for me when I was in PT. I just never knew what they were called before–I always referred to it as the fry-a-lator. 🙂

    My doctor hasn’t been been able to control my pain without just stuffing pills in me; pills aren’t an option if I’m going to be productive in my grad program. Maybe I’ll suggest the portable TENS as a non-pill option.

  • Emmanuelle

    Is this the same thing my chiropractor uses? He calls it “stim” or electro-stim. It creates a mild sort of “buzzing” which I find unpleasant … but your reviews are so positive, I’m tempted to try this for fibro and arthritis. Glad to hear they can be purchased for under $100… Thanks for this info!

  • Faye

    My TENS unit has a warning to NOT use while driving. I have used it during flights. Otherwise, it was great when I could use it. Now, with a defibrillator, I can no longer use it.

  • Clair – nunnybear

    I used to have a device called Dr Pulse which had no wires. You just placed the very small unit where it hurt by means of sticky gel pads and switched it onto one of it’s many programmes. It was amazing but unfortunately I was using it on my lower back, it stopped, I forgot I had it on and lost it when it fell off down the toilet 🙁 I have not been able to find one since. Really wish I could get a replacement.

  • Sandra

    I have had a TENS machine for many years. It fits as all say nicely under clothes and most don’t notice you are wearing it. Mine runs off of a 9 volt battery and gives great stimulation and pain relief. I have two different electrodes to put on – one that I put a gel and then stick it on (I use those when sitting at home and not moving) and the other are the sticky ones. The nices thing about both are you can buy them in all sizes and they can go pretty much anywhere. I have had some reaction to the sticky ones at times but only when I have worn them for a long time and put them on in the same place numerous times. I would recommend a unit for anyone! I haven’t tried it for a car ride but will do that next time – may even try that for a plane ride if I can.

  • Amy

    My father in law once brought out this little wood box with some metal doodads inside & a double crank on the outside, he’d made it as his father had made these for people, it was a hand-crank TENS unit, honestly. He was having a really bad day with his hip & knee, where he’d been injured when his old tractor hit a rock while he was disc-ing a field, he fell off the tractor & his pants caught on the outside housing of the mechanism & dragged him around 50 ft. before the tractor ran into a tree & stopped. Obviously, it caused some serious long-term pain problems. When aspirin didn’t help, he’d get this thing out, use that old-fashioned pull-your-skin-off adhesive tape, put the wires on the knee, & crank away until he got relief. I thought he was nuts! This was back in 1972 when my husband & I were engaged. When I went to nursing school in 1975, they were talking about this “new” TENS therapy, but the box was the same size as my FIL’s – about the size of those clunky old cassette tape recorders, I guess 2-3″ deep, 4-5″ wide, 7-10″ long depending on how much juice you wanted. When I saw one, I burst out laughing & the PT asked what was so funny so I told him about my FIL’s hand-cranked version. They didn’t believe me but one of the African-American students was an LPN going for her RN & she was in her mid-40s, she said it was a common remedy in the African American community, & another woman who was resuming an interrupted nursing school attempt & had teenagers at home said she’d seen the hand-cranked versions, too. My FIL swore by it, & if he was really sore, he’d crank that thing for all he was worth b/c the harder you cranked it, the more electricity came thru it! Now I wish I’d have asked for one! I already had arthritis in my ankle from so many, many sprains as a kid, & it would’ve been nice after I dislocated my knee & the arthritis set in!

    I’d like to know how big an area the TENS you have covers for pain if you can let me know.

    I laughed long & hard when A Mom’s Choice told about the teacher whose kids saw her TENS wires & thought she was a robot! Before I went to nursing school, I was an elementary teacher, & I could just see that happening! Thanks for the laugh!

    Jan, your TENS must have been placed near a chemo trigger zone, I don’t know if they use that term now, but to explain, there are areas in everyone’s bodies that, if stimulated, cause nausea/gagging/retching/vomiting. The one most of us know about is the uvula, that thing that hangs down in the back of your throat, & the area around it. The location or intensity of the stimuli must have irritated one of those in you. It’s also possible you are like me & have extra nerve pathways; mine were discovered the first time I had novocaine & it didn’t work. The dentist did some poking & prodding & told me I had 2 sets of nerves in my mouth so when the military moved me, to tell the next dentist. I did, he didn’t believe me until he couldn’t numb my mouth, either. By the way, when he was prodding, I got really super nauseated & they had to wait until it passed before they could try again on the numbing. When I tried acupuncture a few years ago, I had nausea; the first time it helped for a little while & then I just felt really overall sick (malaise, not nausea). Next time, it did nothing & a few hours later I hurt really, really badly. The 3rd time, I hurt badly & asked him to stop. I was super nauseated but I get that way when I hurt really bad so I’m not sure if the acupuncture triggered both or if the nausea was just from the pain. I’m not sure either if a different practitioner would’ve been able to get it to work, when you get hurt that badly, you’re reluctant to try again. I think possibly you might have that, too, or some variant. Most PTs know where the nerve plexus is in a given area (like the solar plexus in the stomach area that can make you breathless if hit-it’s because the plexus has the Vagus nerve that controls the diaphragm, gut, & to some extent, the heart, so a hit there shocks all those organs. There are also dermatomes, areas of the body that a given spinal nerve controls, so if you get too close to where that dermatome crosses over another or to a nerve plexus, you could get nausea as a result. Depending on how sensitive your nerve endings are, or where your pain is, you might be able to move the leads & get relief without nausea, but it sounds like you tried on the 2nd attempt & it got worse. I will say there was one spot for acupuncture that helped once with a bad combo of regular & ocular migraine I got once at work; since we were trying to figure out what was going on w/ my eyes, how I’d just not be able to see right or even lose all vision sometimes & the ophthalmologists checked everything for 3 years running, i called that doctor. By the time i got there I could only see light & darkness. He got on a nerve plexus on purpose & placed a ew more leads & within minutes I could see again. He removed the leads before I could end up w/ any complications. It was the only time acupuncture helped & he was right on the solar plexus!

  • Iris

    I’ve been using my TENS unit for a few years now(recommended and programmed by my PT) and I can’t say enough good things about it! It is especially helpful to wear when on long car rides, wouldn’t be doable otherwise. I often wear it throughout the day and can turn the unit on and off, as needed. The small unit clips on to my pants or I can put it in my pocket. I find if I put the device under my shirt/blouse before clipping onto my pants, the wires are more manageable and pretty much out of sight. The unit is not much larger than a beeper and I tuck the wires under my top. Placement of the pads on my shoulders, back area, and holding my arms up to do so, is the most difficult part for me. I love the TENS unit along with ice, heat, music or meditation to relieve severe pain. Since I take so many medications, it is always great to try these things prior to taking pain pills. If you put a few drops of water and rub it over the pads and keep the pads in a cool, dry place, it will prolong their stickiness. I usually have to order new pads monthly . Even if the tens unit hasn’t worked in the past(it didn’t work for me 12 years ago), it is definitely worth trying again. It works for me now, better than ever!
    Jan, I’ve never had a reaction as you describe. Perhaps it was just a coincidence and you had another illness going on at the time you tried. I think it would be worth trying again. Start very slowly and mildly. I hope it will work for you. I never use for over 1/2 hr at a time and it is preprogrammed by my PT. I can dial the level of stimulation each time I use-

  • Dale

    After reading of everyone’s success with it, I am going to ask my dr. to order one for me. After 54 yrs. with FMS, I am finally to the pt. where I can no longer fight through the pain on my own. The pain meds have such terrible side effects I am having a difficult time staying on them. Thanks for the heads up!

  • I thought that the TENS unit was old technology and not used much anymore. I will have to discuss it with my pain dr.

  • Jen Martin

    I love mine!!!

  • Dana

    My TENS is my back’s best friend!

  • Jan

    I had a really strange reaction when TENS was used on me during physical therapy. The first time, it made me feel nauseous. The second (and LAST) time, I actually threw up three times after leaving PT. Anyone else ever had that type of reaction? Needless to say, I’m afraid to ever try it again.

  • Rae

    I love mine too. It is really easy to use. There are times that using it helps me fall asleep. It has a timer on it so you can set it to go fro 15, 30 or 60 minutes. My doc suggested no longer than an hour on, than an hour off on the same muscle area, but I can move it around my body constantly if I need to (hour on the shoulder, hour on the elbow, hour on the knee) if I need to without probs according to my doc.

  • Margaret Thomas

    I have used a TENS unit while having PT, It was able to untie knots I had in my lower back that were there for 30+ yrs. Love TENS.

  • Stacey

    I love my TENS!!! I didn’t get mine with a prescription because I’m not currently seeing a physical therapist. But the one I got online was still very inexpensive and my doctors approve of it. And it has done wonders. It helps both muscle and skeletal pain. The joint/arthritis pain of EDS and the muscle agony of fibromyalgia both benefit from the wonder nerve stimulator. Fabulous little product!

  • kel Doiron

    I have had one for years & l love it. The only problem is the pads. They don’t Stay sticky for very long,they end up stuck to your clothes instead of on your skin. Any suggestions???????????

  • Susie w.

    Check out Amazon for under $100 TENS units- non reimbursable probably but no RX required. I use mine almost daily and adjust the pad positions and strength depending upon the pain.

  • Hutch

    My wife has used a TENS unit for chronic low back pain for 20 years. It is great — I’ve had to repair it a few times, but I am amazed it is still going strong, as it would be several hundred $$$ to replace. So glad that others are also finding pain relief from this method.

  • I’ve been using tens unit for over 8 years. It’s a blessing and curse especially when someone looks at you with wires hanging out. A teacher in my daughter’s grade school whose wires fell out the kids thought she was a robot.

  • Great explaination of the TENS. I too wish they had something like that for energy!