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Best Muscle Stimulators Reviewed
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines are all the rage right now, thanks to their ability to help you recover from muscle injury and get back to fitness.
Sports stars love them, but they’re also helpful for regular people too, including women with menstrual cramps, and anyone who is experiencing acute or chronic episodes of pain.
TENS machines aren’t designed as replacements for traditional therapy and pain-relief medications, but they can certainly support your recovery.
The idea is to better manage the problem so that you can get back to training (or just general health) faster than otherwise.
As a result, the best muscle stimulators are highly useful for treating muscle soreness, recovering from injuries, and preparing for workouts.
The devices work via electrical stimulation. TENS machines generate electric currents between two electrodes, using your body as the conductive material in between. People love them for their fabulous ability to override the body’s natural pain mechanisms, scrambling them so that your brain finds it harder to interpret the signals.
Researchers don’t really know why TENS machines are so effective. Studies on them are small and poorly designed. However, user accounts and reports suggest that they’re incredibly effective, able to deal with pain that pharmaceutical approaches can’t touch.
TENS machines work best as part of your daily routine and are a great adjunct to regular physical therapy. Generally, people use them while active, such as going shopping or taking a walk in the park, because that’s when pain is more likely to strike. Users hope that habitual use of these devices will help them enjoy situations they would usually avoid because of pain worries.
Putting an electrical circuit on your body might seem like a strange thing to do, but people have been shocking themselves in various ways to improve their health for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians would attach electrical fish to their bodies to deliver a similar effect. And throughout the ages, people have taken ice baths and gone to steam rooms to “sweat out” their maladies.
In this review, we explore the best muscle stimulators available on the market today. See our findings in the following sections.
Check Out Our Favorite Muscle Stimulator
Top Muscle Stimulators Comparison Chart
Best Muscle Stimulator
PowerDot has a long history of creating muscle stimulators that assist people in their journey towards health and wellness. The company sees its role as providing high-performance tools that let people get back to their regular training as soon as possible.
The PowerDot 2.0 muscle stimulator – the latest in the brand’s lineup – is no exception. The brand describes it as the “world’s smartest muscle recovery and performance tool,” allowing users to recover faster, massage out knots in their muscles, get pain relief, and prevent injuries in the future.
The device connects to a mobile app that allows you to adjust the settings to deliver optimal stimulation to the target area. It includes therapy recommendations, safety advice, and the ability to set the level of stimulation manually. It also tracks your progress over time, allowing you to see how you’re improving and whether the device is making a difference.
PowerDot touts the benefits of using “Smart TENS” – its software that customizes the operation of the device. All users have to do is select the type of pain that they have – for instance, injury-related, acute, or chronic – and the machine will cycle through a range of stimulation programs, offering optimal relief. The software uses proprietary algorithms to figure out the optimal current to pass over various parts of the body. So you don’t have to go through any trial and error process to achieve the optimal setting.
PowerDot 2.0 Muscle Stimulator[/caption]
The Complex Sport Elite 2.0 Muscle Stimulator is specifically marketed for athletes (though it is still applicable for pain management). It adopts an old-school style, using onboard software to manage settings instead of siphoning them off to apps on third-party devices.
This approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s rather nice to have a unit with all the commands pre-configured, allowing you to select specific programs related to your needs. Complex breaks down stimulation patterns in 10 modes: 4 to increase strength, three to assist recovery, two for warmups, and one TENS-specific protocol. The goal is to help fitness fanatics increase their explosive strength and recover faster while managing pain that accompanies extreme training. Complex goes as far as to claim that the device helps to avoid training fatigue.
The Sport Elite model offers twelve electrodes, allowing you to customize the path the current takes through your body. And unlike the Edge 2.0 and Performance 2.0 – two other models in Complex’s range – you get “recovery plus” tools, muscle massage and relaxation settings, explosive strength programs, and potentiation. Some of the device’s settings, such as the pre-warm up, do not activate muscle tissue at all. Instead, they simply pass a current through the body designed to increase blood flow and clear lactic acid, preparing users for a training session.
Thus, you can see how Complex has tried to innovate on the conventional TENS formula. This machine will deliver TENS action, but it also provides pain-free people with additional utility during intensive training episodes.
All of the TENS machines discussed so far rely on the use of wires. However, the VPOD from the Massage Therapy Concepts Store takes a different approach.
Unlike the Complex Sport Elite, you don’t use independent electrode patches. Instead, you get a single, battery-powered unit that you place on the affected area of your body which you then control from your mobile device. The VPOD wraps around the affected joint using the two adhesive sections and then follows whatever instructions you give it.
VPOD markets the device as a 3-in-1 pain solution. That’s because it includes both TENS, EMS (electrical muscle stimulation), and NMES (neuromuscular electrical stimulation) in a single package. The device comes with 24 unique modes and allows you to switch between 20 intensity levels. The app is intuitive and uses pictorial representations to guide your selection. The VPOD is also lightweight and portable, making it easy to bring with you on training sessions. Treatment times go up to 60 minutes.
Those looking for a highly customizable TENS solution might want to check out the iReliev Wireless Muscle Stimulator. This device differs from the others in this list because of its intense focus on delivering FDA-approved TENS for common pain-related conditions.
The system is completely wireless and simple to set up. You just place the snap-style electrode pads wherever you need pain relief and then select the appropriate program. iReliev provides one program for arthritis, six for muscle conditioning, and seven for various types of pain relief.
Despite the fact that the system is wireless, you get around five to ten hours of battery life from the remote, allowing you to deliver multiple sessions on a single charge. You also get a wired adapter, so even if the battery runs out, you can still deliver the required pain relief at any time you need it. The individual pods have around three to five hours of charge.
iReliev provides a quick-start guide with every device it sells. There’s also an instruction manual showing you how to use the device therapeutically. It’s incredibly wearable, versatile, and allows you to target multiple areas of the body simultaneously, negating the need to continually rotate electrodes to deal with pain in different areas. It is great for those with body-wide pain conditions.
HiDow specifically designs the XP-Micro muscle stimulator for people who are always “on-the-go.” The device combines both EMS and TENS technology into a single platform, allowing users to deliver different kinds of pain relief and management to their tissues.
The primary function of the unit is to provide lightweight, smartphone-like convenience to users. The actual chassis of the controller looks a little bit like an old-fashioned pager you might see from the early 2000s. It comes with a large screen and basic push-button controls that make it easy to select the program that you need. Critically, it’s pocket-sized, so you can just pop it in your pocket before you hit the gym and get TENS throughout your training session.
Like other devices in this list, HiDow equips the XP-Micro with a variety of additional programs that enhance general training performance. For instance, it comes with blood-flow distributing technologies which the brand claims can cut workout time in half by making the body more efficient.
Pain-relief personalization comes in the form of eight pre-programmed massage modes. To start the device, you first connect the four electrodes via wires to the central unit. You then select the model you want, the adjustable timer (between 10 and 60 minutes), and the intensity. The machine will then begin emitted waves to stimulate deep tissue and cause your muscles to twitch.
HiDow’s product is superior to many others on the market because of the way it delivers TENS pulses. Most devices emit a single type of pulse. The brain releases feel-good endorphins in response, making the user feel better initially. However, it soon acclimates, reducing the overall therapeutic benefit. HiDow gets around this by using 18 different pulse styles which continuously keep the brain guessing, improving the overall perceived effectiveness of the device.
Top Muscle Stimulator Benefits To Consider
In the above review, we alluded to some of the reasons why you might choose to find and use a quality muscle stimulator, but they’re worth reiterating here for clarity’s sake.
High-intensity athletes often train their muscles to the point of failure. This activity leads to the buildup of lactic acid and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). For this reason, sports-focused TENS machine vendors equip their devices with programs that specifically encourage the movement of blood and lymph in deep tissue, helping to clear away waste products and provide muscle cells with the nutrients they need to thrive.
TENS machines have a long history of reducing pain. The FDA regulates all devices on the market, so they all work in a very similar way. The idea is to “trick” the body’s pain receptors so that they can no longer accurately represent discomfort in the targeted area. Athletes can benefit, but so too can anyone who is struggling to deal with chronic or acute pain. Pain medications usually work, but they also come with side-effects, including damage to the stomach lining, weight gain, and addiction. TENS is purely electrical, so it avoids these hazards while delivering substantial pain-relieving effects.
Because TENS machines stimulate muscles, some vendors tout them as “weight loss” devices. Simply wearing a tens machine activates muscles and assists in calorie burning. Whether this leads to an actual reduction in body mass requires additional testing.
Muscles can often experience extensive damage due to trauma, injury, and surgery. Therefore, many brands recommend TENS devices for rehabilitation. Some even provide specific programs to cater to this niche. By pulsing gentle electrical currents through the muscle, they can provide an optimal level of stimulation to allow the muscle to recover. Not too much to cause damage, but also not too little to have an effect.
Some of the products reviewed above had specific settings for dealing with osteoarthritis – the version that tends to afflict people as they get older. According to research, the condition involves the progressive degradation of joint tissues, leading to pain and swelling. Electrical muscle stimulation, vendors suggest, is an effective physical therapy in older adults currently experiencing joint pain, and it could offer enhanced mobility and independence.
Muscle stimulators can also increase the effectiveness of warm-ups by making tissues more receptive to blood supplies. Low-level currents pass through muscles, encouraging blood vessels to open up and lymph to drain. These settings aren’t enough to strengthen muscles or override pain signals, but they still have considerable physiological effects.
For people living with pain, TENS machines offer an additional way to get relief. Current recommendations are to use them alongside traditional therapies, such as mediations, herbal remedies, acupuncture, meditation, and even hypnosis.