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Portable TENS Unit Checklist

Searching for a portable TENS unit?  Trying to find a good model can be challenging and confusing - there's many to choose from, all claiming to be the best.  We review  what to look for when purchasing a device so that you get the right model for your needs.  Already know what you're looking for?  Click TENS unit to see our entire selection of physician recommended units.

There are two main types of portable TENS unit products to consider when making a purchase: analog or digital.  Analog is considered an older technology yet still produces an effective current for achieving pain relief.  Most notable though is the fact that these devices will not have a fancy LCD screen (like on a calculator) so you will not see the fancy display settings - it will have basic turn-style knobs.  These units, however, are typically cheaper than their digital cousins.  A digital unit normally will have and LCD display and push button controls making it a little easier to use because it will flash the settings on the screen instead of you having to flip up the front cover for inspection.  Programming and selecting the treatment mode can be easier for first time patients who have never used a portable TENS unit before. Also digital units will typically have times as well for setting the treatment time.

Count the number of modes on the device you're considering.  The mode is the packaging of electrical bursts coming out of the device.  Most devices will have three basic modes: constant mode, burst mode, and modulation mode.  With constant you feel the prickly sensation all the time.  With bust the prickly sensation will ramp up and crescendo and then ramp back down.  Finally, in modulation mode, the portable TENS unit will modulate the packages with some high and some low - this is said to produce a better overall effect as it targets both slow and fast firing pain pathways.  Expensive models can have upwards of 11 different modes - most of which are variations on the basic three already mentioned.  A unit with the basic three will provide ample pain relief for the vast majority of patients.

Look at the portable TENS unit output power value which is listed as mA.  The mA rating on the TENS unit is how much power the unit can put out and will determine the strength of the prickly sensation felt underneath the electrodes..  The higher the value the stronger the device.  A basic unit will have a value around 80mA and a higher end product will be around 130mA.  On many units you can adjust the output to customize how strong it feels.  This is one of the most important considerations because for most people if it doesn't feel strong, then it is not felt to be effective, and therefore sits in their closet instead of being used.

What is the frequency range for your unit?  The frequency is the number of little "bursts" per second.  The higher the frequency, the smoother the device feels.  The lower the frequency, the more you feel the "thumps" underneath the electrodes.  Search for a portable TENS unit which can adjust the frequency.  You'll be able to customize the treatment and get better results no matter what area of the body you're treating.  And the current is better reach the intended treatment area.

Portable TENS Unit