Three best muscle stimulators

Allen Foster

A TENS unit does not cure pain.

If you're reading this article, you're either looking to purchase an electric muscle stimulator or, like many other people, you're curious about what one can do. Can it make you stronger? Will it help you lose weight? Can it cure pain? What's the difference between EMS and TENS?

By the time you finish this brief guide, not only will you know the answers to all of those questions (and more) but you'll also learn about the essential features you want to have on your muscle stimulator. And we've also listed three of our favorite models to help you in your search.

Considerations when choosing muscle stimulators

Your first decision is determining which type of device you need. Some units combine both functions.

EMS: An electric muscle stimulator sends electrical impulses between two surface electrodes placed on the skin to trigger muscle contractions. This type of device is most effective for rehabilitative purposes.

TENS: A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit sends an electrical pulse across the surface of the skin, targeting nerve strands. The intent is to block pain signals from reaching the brain. This process can also cause the body to produce higher levels of endorphins. TENS units are effective for pain relief.

Muscle stimulator features

Therapy programs: On certain EMS devices, you can select from a number of different presets, each sending a unique pattern of impulses designed to stimulate your muscles in a different way.

Intensity: This feature lets you choose the intensity level of the pulses. You must be careful not to set this parameter above your tolerance level because the device may cause skin irritation, bruising, or burning.

Dual channels: A muscle stimulator with dual channels enables the unit to deliver two different levels of intensity during treatment. This feature can enhance the effectiveness of the therapy.

Timer: A timer lets you preselect the duration of treatment.

Screen: The more information that's displayed on the device's screen, the easier it is to operate and determine the most appropriate settings for your individual needs.

FDA approval: Electric muscle stimulators fall under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration. If you purchase a unit that is not approved by the FDA, you're putting yourself at greater risk of injury.

Muscle stimulator prices: Entry-level models cost $20 to $40. You will likely have a choice of either TENS or EMS. Portable models that offer both TENS and EMS treatment cost $50 to $100. Additionally, these units will have most if not all of the essential features listed above. For most home treatments, you can find everything you need in this range. High-end portable EMS units cost $100 to $200. These offer more programs, greater durability, and are easier to use.


Q. Why would I need a safety lock feature on my EMS or TENS unit?

A. This feature locks the keypad during use to prevent the settings from accidentally being changed. When locked, you can't inadvertently bump the intensity level up to full and receive a higher-powered jolt than you were anticipating.

Q. Can I use my electric muscle stimulator instead of going to the gym?

A. Sure, but you're not going to see any results. To date, there is no evidence that using EMS devices stimulates weight loss or muscle growth. These units are effective for muscle rehabilitation, such as relaxation of spasms, prevention of muscle atrophy, and muscle re-education.

Muscle stimulators we recommend

Best of the best: iReliev TENS and EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator 

Our take: A portable, battery-powered TENS and EMS unit that is effective for both blocking pain signals and promoting muscle recovery.

What we like: This dual-function unit has 14 preset therapy modes and 25 intensity levels to choose from, so you can administer your treatment with a great deal of precision. It comes with 12 pads, three AAA batteries, two lead wires, a belt clip, and a tote bag.

What we dislike: An AC adapter would be a welcome feature.

Best bang for your buck: Santamedical Handheld Electronic Pulse Massager 

Our take: A bargain-priced TENS unit with more features than you would expect.

What we like: Small, lightweight, and FDA-approved, this electric massager is a versatile unit. It comes with six preset modes and features fully adjustable parameters so you can fine-tune your treatment.

What we dislike: For what it can do at this price, there's not much to dislike.

Choice 3: Pure Enrichment PurePulse Pro TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator 

Our take: A compact and effective TENS unit that is designed to be part of your pain management regimen.

What we like: This device has eight preset therapy programs and 25 intensity levels along with a timer that can be set from 5 to 60 minutes. It comes with four pads, three AAA batteries, two lead wires, a belt clip, and a soft case.

What we dislike: For those unfamiliar with TENS units, there is a brief learning curve.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.


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