Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a relatively new pain management therapy. Since the late 1990s, millions of sufferers from chronic or acute pains who could not find relief in pharmacological treatments have turned to TENS. TENS works on any pain by blocking the nerves’ pain signal transmissions to the brain and stimulating the production of endorphins.
If you suffer from chronic foot pain caused by plantar fasciitis, peripheral neuropathy, or others, electrical stimulation might work for you where medication has failed. Let’s investigate a bit about TENS units for the feet: How does it work? Why does it work? What products are best?
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is one of the newest and most efficient treatments for chronic and acute pains. TENS therapy for the feet can be done either at home with easy-to-use TENS units or at your doctor’s office.
At-home TENS units are inexpensive small portable devices that allow you to immediately start pain-relieving sessions whenever and wherever needed. If you suffer from chronic foot pain caused by plantar fasciitis, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or others, having a TENS unit at your disposal can help you manage the pain throughout the day.
There’s no TENS unit specially designed for foot therapy. Not all TENS devices are suitable for the feet though. Before buying a TENS unit you intend to use on your feet and ankles, you should pay attention to the following features:
– It’s better if it’s wireless. Think about all these wires going down your legs. You won’t be able to move during therapy sessions.
– Electrode pads must be small and high-quality. Because of the shape of our feet, large pads won’t adhere to the skin. Smaller pads are better for foot placement.
– Don’t get the first price. Cheap poor-quality TENS units aren’t worth it. They don’t perform well and you won’t benefit from the therapy.
– There might be a foot pain relief program. Some TENS units come with pre-set modes, sometimes including a pain relief mode for the feet.
To help you make a smart purchase decision, here are the 5 Best TENS units for the feet in 2022:
iReliev is the leader in the TENS and EMS market. This wireless premium unit is their newest version and it’s the best TENS unit for the feet.
iReliev wireless wearable system is the perfect TENS unit for the feet as you have no wires to bother you or limit your movements. It’s designed to take your therapy wherever you go without anyone noticing. Wireless pads are essential if you plan to use your TENS machine for the feet away from home. Walking around with wires going down to your legs is pretty much impossible. Whether you suffer from plantar fasciitis or neuropathy foot pain, iReliev’s electrode pads are easy to place on any foot part.
Not only does iReliev administers transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), but it can also deliver electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). EMS focuses on muscular contraction to stimulate and strengthen the muscles. EMS is a complementary therapy to increase feet and ankles strength and overall foot health. It has numerous benefits in the long-term decreasing chronic foot pain caused by nerve damage and plantar fasciitis.
iReliev TENS unit has 14 preset programs, of which seven are for chronic and acute pain relief, and six are for EMS. There are 25 levels of intensity, more than most other TENS machines. You get a great deal of control over the strength of your treatment and can gradually increase it. Session times can be set from 5 to 60 minutes. Another killer feature is how the unit remembers your previous settings. It’s beneficial once you’ve found your ideal location and want to start a quick foot pain-relief session.
iReliev TENS + EMS unit comes with two wireless pods, and you can connect two additional ones for extended body coverage. The best about it is that you can either pair the pods together or customize the pairing of each pod and get different stimulations, intensities, or durations on various parts of the body, legs, ankles, and feet.
There are only four buttons, making it one of the simplest TENS units to use. Instructions are straightforward, and the initial settings and pairing are hassle-free. It’s also one of the most performant TENS devices, with high-intensity levels (you probably don’t even need the last five levels) and excellent battery performance (3-5 hours on a single charge).
Electrode pads are an essential part of a TENS unit. The pads must have excellent performance and skin adhesion for the machine to work efficiently. iReliev wireless pods snap onto iReliev’ reusable pads. The package includes four small pads (2.75 x 2,75) and four large pads (3 x 5). Replacement pads are slightly more expensive than other companies, but iReliev’ pads are durable (reusable up to 20-30 times), made with premium quality flexible later-free material, and perfectly bond to the skin, even under the feet. Plus, iReliev offers a subscription service for the pads that makes you save 40% of the price.
Apart from its price, that can be prohibitive for some, the only drawback I could find to the iReliev TENS + EMS wireless therapeutic machine is that it only works with iReliev’s electrode pads (the pods are not compatible with any other places).
PowerDot offers the most groundbreaking TENS machine. It turns your smartphone into a TENS unit via the Therabody app. It’s the most portable and brightest TENS unit you can find today. The size of the pods is ideal for foot placement.
PowerDot TENS device is app-controlled. Your phone is the controller and sends stimulations to the wireless pods placed on your body via the Therabody app. The app is super intuitive and guides you through every step. There are more than 400 customized programs for pain relief and muscle recovery, and you can create your personalized settings. With up to 20 hours of battery life, it’s one of the most performant TENS units on the market.
PowerDot app can create customized treatments tailored to your needs. Enter the relevant data such as the painful area, the type of pain, the level of pain, your tolerance level, as well as your goals. The app then finds the perfect combination, including accurate pad placement, intensity level, session length, and stimulation settings.
Besides its great transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) function, PowerDot also offers a “massage” mode. The neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) settings help increase blood flow in your feet. People suffering from diabetic neuropathy often suffer from peripheral artery disease, which reduces blood flow and oxygen in the lower limbs and can cause swollen feet. Combining the pain-relieving TENS function with the blood circulation NMES function is ideal for people with diabetes with foot problems.
PowerDot Duo TENS unit comes with two wireless pods, while PowerDot Uno comes with one pod only. Each pod can be connected to two electrode pads. So with the Duo, you can place four pillows on your body but only 2 with the Uno. The pads are connected to the pod via a wire. If you want to do TENS on both your feet simultaneously, you need a PowerDot Duo.
PowerDot Uno and PowerDot Duo TENS units come with six reusable electrode pads (2 rectangular pads 9cm x 5cm and 4 round pads 5.5 cm diameter). I find the rectangular ones too large for foot placement, but they’re great if you want to try TENS for calves or back pain. The round pads are great for the feet. PowerDot pads are made with premium quality adhesive and last for about 20-25 applications. You can get replacement packs on their website. PowerDot only works with its pads. It’s not compatible with pads from other manufacturers.
The only drawbacks I could find to PowerDot are its price and the fact that it can only be used with PowerDot’s electrode pods (which are pretty expensive). Also, it would help if you had a smartphone to make it work.
With more than 50 different TENS units, HealthMate Forever is a leader in the TENS industry, providing both health professionals with complex devices and individuals with easy-to-use at-home TENS units. The HM8AB model is the most adapted to foot electrotherapy, offering an excellent program for plantar fasciitis.
HealthMate Forever HM8AB model offers eight pre-programmed pain-relief settings and 20 levels of intensity. You can choose Tuina pulse, Acupuncture pulse, Tapping pulse, Cupping pulse, Pressure pulse, Shiatsu pulse, Kneading pulse, or Deep tissue pulse. The pads perfectly fit at the bottom of the foot where you most need vibrations to relieve plantar fasciitis pain.
HealthMate Forever TENS unit has two independent dual channels, each of which controls up to two electrodes (4 total). Each channel can be set up on different modes. You can treat both feet at the same time or treat other parts of the body meanwhile with different settings.
This TENS device is highly performant. The battery is rechargeable and can last up to 20 hours. The wireless system is optional. When you choose the wireless option, you need to add the Wi9 wireless kit, which comes with a wireless transmitter, a wireless receiver pod, and two snap-on electrode pads. The electrode pads can be used up to 100 times if adequately maintained. You can buy extra ones on the website. They’re reasonably priced at around $25 for a 10-pack.
The unit is bulkier than the two previous ones, and it’s a bit more complicated to use. The wireless kit has to be bought separately. HealthMate Forever HM8AB is only available to individuals on the company’s website. This product is available on Amazon if you have a business account and a healthcare license.
Omron is a popular name in the TENS industry, and it would be hard not to include one of its numerous electrotherapy products. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t have any wireless TENS for the feet. However and despite being wired, Omron’s Pocket Pain Pro TENS unit is an excellent option for those willing to try nerve stimulation in the feet to relieve plantar fasciitis or neuropathy pain. Plus, it’s cheaper than a wireless device.
With its pocket size and simplified panel control, Omron’s pocket pain pro is one of the most convenient and accessible TENS units. If you struggle with comprehensive technology, this is your best choice! There are only four buttons, and the instructions are super intuitive. It’s compact and lightweight, so you can take it everywhere and quickly start a TENS session whenever pain strikes.
Omron’s Pocket TENS offers three preset pain programs: one for the arms and shoulders, one for the lower back, and one especially for the legs and feet. You can also choose from two massage-like modes (knead or steady). Massages can help with neuropathy or plantar fasciitis pain. There are only ten levels of intensity.
Omron claims its self-adhesive electrode pads are reusable up to 150 times, which is way more than any other manufacturer. The pads’ size and unique shape are perfect for the feet and perfectly bond to the skin even in the most challenging areas. The Pocket pro-TENS unit comes with two long-life pads. You can get extra ones here.
This TENS device is simple, easy to use, and affordable. Compared to its best competitors above, it comes with limited settings. The fact that it’s not wireless is not ideal for electrotherapy on the feet. You’ll have to find a place to sit down and stay quiet during your treatment. Plus, it’s battery-powered (2 AAA batteries), which is much less convenient and eco-friendly than rechargeable machines.
TENS 7000 has been the most-sold TENS unit since 2008. It’s also one of the cheapest TENS machines you can find. Its younger competitors now offer smaller, easier-to-use, and more performant teams, but it still is a trustable (and very affordable) product.
TENS 7000 is a simple yet efficient TENS unit. It has five preset programs only: typical, burst, modulation strength duration 1, and strength duration 2. There are only four control buttons, and a hardcover protects them, so you don’t accidentally knock them and change your settings during your electrotherapy sessions. The pulse amplitude is adjustable from 0-100mA in 10mA increments. You can select your therapy duration.
TENS 7000 is a dual-channel TENS unit with two independent channels that can be used with different settings. Each channel controls two electrodes. In total, you can use the machine with four electrodes. The unit comes with four multi-use free starter electrode pads.
The pads are small and flexible enough to be placed on any part of the feet, making TENS 7000 one of the TENS units suitable for foot neuropathy, nerve pain, plantar fasciitis, and any other types of chronic or acute foot pain.
TENS 7000 is one of the cheapest yet functioning TENS units you can find. The look is old, and the machine is a bit bulky. When placed on the feet, the wires limit your movements, so you can’t conveniently use it away from home. The unit is battery-powered, which can be a real deal-breaker for some.
If you can afford the price difference, a wireless rechargeable TENS unit makes the difference regarding the convenience and comfort of foot pain relief sessions. But for such a low price, TENS 7000 does the job!
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – TENS – therapy uses low-voltage electric current to relieve pain. TENS machines use electrodes to send electrical pulses through the skin and nerves. These pulses block the transmission of pain messages to the brain and increase the production of endorphins and enkephalins, two body’s natural painkillers.
TENS is a non-invasive, non-addictive, and drug-free pain management alternative with few side effects. You can book TENS sessions at your doctor’s office or use small portable TENS devices at home.
Chronic foot pain can be very debilitating, whether caused by plantar fasciitis, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or others. Pharmaceutical treatments often fail at alleviating this kind of pain, and when they don’t, they sometimes have unpleasant side effects and create strong addictions.
TENS therapy has numerous benefits for chronic foot pain, plantar fasciitis, and diabetic peripheral neuropathy in the feet:
Scientific researches on TENS therapy for neuropathy and plantar fasciitis are still limited. The efficiency may vary from one person to the other and depends on several factors such as the affected area, the settings and intensity of pulses, and the quality of the machine you use.
TENS is used to treat any pain, whether chronic or acute. Because it works by annihilating pain signals to the brain and stimulating the production of endorphins, its efficiency does not depend on the type of pain. It’s widely used by patients with arthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, tendonitis, low-back pain, menstrual pain, peripheral artery disease, peripheral neuropathy, and nerve pain.
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a severe diabetes complication that painfully damages the nerves from the feet and sometimes the hands. Unfortunately, only 30% to 50% of patients respond to traditional pharmacology. The rest has to turn to alternative pain management methods. TENS is one of the most used and has proven to be very efficient for numerous patients. It lowers neuropathic pain and helps boost blood circulation.
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament that runs from the heel to the toes. It can happen for many reasons, and the pain can be extreme. By blocking pain signals and stimulating endorphins production, electrostimulation pulses sent by TENS units at the bottom of the feet have proven to decrease plantar fasciitis pain for many sufferers considerably.
Where to place TENS pads on the feet depends on the cause of foot pain and the affected areas. The ideal spots to place electrode pads aren’t the same whether you suffer from foot pain caused by osteoarthritis, plantar fasciitis, ball of the foot, bunions, hammertoes, peripheral neuropathy, or others.
The general rule is to place the pads where it hurts. Locate exactly where your pain is and identify the sharpest point. Ideally, place one pad at either side of the most sensitive foot pain point. It allows the electric signals to pass from one electrode to the other through the painful area.
If you suffer from chronic foot pain, you should first ask your doctor’s advice to know if you should use a TENS unit and where to place the electrode pads precisely.
Peripheral neuropathy in the feet can be very painful. Symptoms vary from mild to extreme and can include sharp pains, cramps, numbness, tingling, burning feet, extreme sensitivity to touch, and more. The area and type of foot pain caused by neuropathy vary from one person to the other. It can be very localized or extended.
An ordinary pad placement for foot neuropathy is to put one electrode midline on the posterior calf above the Achilles tendon insertion and another electrode in the depression between the medial malleolus and the Achilles tendon. But there’s no “official” TENS unit placement for foot neuropathy depending on your pain.
Peripheral neuropathy is a serious condition that can lead to severe complications. Always ask for your doctor’s advice before using TENS on neuropathic feet.
TENS therapy for plantar fasciitis has proven its efficiency in numerous patients. Depending on the most painful area, the electrodes can be placed on the arch of the feet, on the bottom of the heels, or at the sides of the heels. iReliev has put together a great guide about TENS units for plantar fasciitis.