Best TENS Unit for Vagus Nerve Stimulation (2020)

Best TENS unit vagus Nerve

Individuals with epilepsy or depression may benefit from vagus nerve stimulation. This is a treatment that can help lessen the occurrence of seizures and help treat symptoms of depression. However, most traditional vagus nerve stimulation devices require an invasive operation, and many have turned to transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS) for help.

We found that the best TENS unit for vagus nerve stimulation is the AUVON EasyStim, as it’s incredibly easy to use and read. However, there’s also the budget-friendly TENS 7000 unit for those watching their wallet. And if you want the best possible unit, the iStim EV-804 is the ultimate upgrade option.

Though each of these options will require a little adaptation to function as a transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) device, they’re also the best-suited models for adjustment and tVNS therapy. In this article, we’ll examine these units in greater detail and explain how to adapt a standard TENS unit into a capable tVNS machine.

Our Favorite

AUVON EasyStim TENS Unit

This small, handheld TENS unit features a surprising amount of versatility and a comprehensive array of displayed data. It’s nearly impossible to find a TENS unit that displays pulse width, frequency, timer setting, and channel intensity. Somehow, this model manages to compact all of this vital info into an easy-to-read, backlit screen.

Like many of the best tVNS devices, this unit is battery-powered and not rechargeable. While some may see this as a drawback, this model can withstand months of daily use before requiring new batteries. In addition, this unit is affordable, and it comes with an excellent set of additional accessories and features.

The AUVON EasyStim comes with 32 pre-programmed modes and eight electrode pads. So if you decide to use this TENS unit for massage or arthritis occasionally, you have plenty of specific programs from which to choose. You’ll also have all of the supplies you need at the ready, including a carrying bag and pad holder.

This unit is the ideal tVNS-adaptable unit and can be used as a TENS/EMS unit as well. For the price and quality, it simply cannot be beaten.

Battery: Replaceable, 2xAA 

Channel: Dual Channel

Pulse Width Adjustable: Yes

Frequency Adjustability: Yes

Included Pads: 8

Backlit Screen: Yes

Budget-Friendly Option

TENS 7000 2nd Edition TENS Unit

If you’re only interested in getting a TENS unit for tVNS therapy, and you’d like to secure the most affordable-yet-effective option possible, then the TENS 7000 might be the right model for you. It’s simple, straightforward, and easy to use. 

While it only comes with four electrode pads, this won’t be an issue if you’re only using them to create electrode earbuds. You’ll still have plenty of material to work with. This model comes with a hard plastic carrying case to keep cables, and the display unit, in excellent condition. The dual channels are great for those hoping to enjoy non-invasive at-home tVNS treatment, and a protective flip cover helps keep intensity dials out of reach during use.

Another thing to consider when examining this device is its warranty. This unit comes with a solid 1-year warranty, and when users operate their machine with care, the TENS 7000 can last for several years. However, night-time users are sure to be disappointed by this unit’s lack of backlit screens or illuminated buttons.

An upgraded version of this model does exist and may be the better choice for some buyers.

Battery: Replaceable, 9-Volt 

Channel: Dual Channel

Pulse Width Adjustable: Yes

Frequency Adjustability: Yes

Included Pads: 4

Backlit Screen: No

Get an Upgrade

iStim EV-804 TENS Unit

The iStim EV-804 has quite a few similarities with the TENS 7000 in terms of appearance and display, but every feature has been improved upon and upgraded for the iStim model. Rather than having to replace an awkward 9-volt battery, users can simply plug this model into their USB or AC/DC charger and wait a few hours. A charge indicator light will let you know what the battery is full.

The body of the display/operation unit is wrapped in sturdy, rugged material. If you accidentally drop this unit, it’s not likely to break or malfunction, and many glass-faced models simply cannot compare. The small display screen is backlit, and the controls are located beneath a hidden panel within the body of the unit.

In addition, like the TENS 7000, the intensity dials are covered beneath a protective case that you can flip, minimizing accidents. If you’d like to tote your device around while you run errands, work, or relax, you’ll enjoy this model’s built-in belt clip and long-lasting battery life. The fact that this unit comes with eight pads and a nifty case also helps to make it the ultimate upgrade option.

The portability, durable design, excellent set of accessories, multifunctionality, and straightforward data display are virtually unbeatable. If you feel like treating yourself to a tVNS device that won’t quit, you may want to spend some time exploring the iStim.

Battery: Rechargeable 

Channel: Dual Channel

Pulse Width Adjustable: Yes

Frequency Adjustability: Yes

Included Pads: 8

Backlit Screen: Yes

Want to know where a TENS unit can be placed?  Check out my TENS placement guide here

Knee Pain

Neck Pain

Shoulder Pain

Tension Headaches

Golfer’s Elbow

Plantar Fasciitis

Rotator Cuff Pain

Restless Leg Syndrome

Ulnar Nerve Pain

TMJ Pain

Why should you trust me?

TENS UnitI have extensively used TENS units for neck, shoulder, back and knee issues and became familiar with TENS therapy through countless visits to my chiropractor and physical therapist’s office. I have spent many hours researching and reading how TENS therapy can alleviate pain.

I consider myself knowledgeable in the use of TENS units and have used them regularly to help manage pain over the years. Many of my recommendations are from firsthand experience/use and hopefully my information can be a benefit to you.

Adapting a TENS Unit for Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Most TENS units do not come with vagus nerve stimulation adapters or programs, which can make it incredibly challenging to find the best unit for this specific type of therapy. However, with a little dedication and know-how, anyone can prepare their unit for vagus nerve stimulation.

There are two primary pathways you can take. Either route requires you to purchase a set of plastic ear clip electrodes. However, after doing this, you could take one of two things:

  1. Construct a single earbud electrode by putting two different electrodes together.
  2. Create positive/negative electrode earbuds by stripping fabric electrode pads and recycling them into the plastic earbuds.

To help you better understand how these two processes work, let’s explore both options in further detail. After all, the type of equipment you’ll need will vary depending on which adaptation you choose.

Combining Earbuds

Creating a comfortable, practical, and long-lasting combined earbud electrode is an attractive alternative to working with exposed black fiber, but it does require a little more equipment. For example, before attempting this project, you’ll need:

  • Two pairs (4 total) plastic earbud electrodes
  • A rotary tool/dremel or comparable cutting tool that can safely handle plastic
  • A set of hard plastic safety goggles or glasses
  • Sandpaper sheets, 220, 400, 800, 1200, and 1500 grit.
  • A pair of rugged safety gloves
  • A small bottle of superglue or plastic-safe, fast-drying adhesive
  • A TENS unit with two outputs or channels and adjustable pulse width, frequency, and time

However, if you already happen to own most of these items, your immediate expense will be slightly less. And even if you don’t own any of the above supplies, the overall expense will still remain relatively small. At the end of the project, you’ll have an effective vagus nerve stimulation device and a dremel or cutting tool that you can use for future ventures.

Once you have gathered your supplies and you’re ready to begin, you’ll only need to take ten simple steps. Prepare your work area and:

  1. Deconstruct your earbuds. Carefully pry apart your plastic earbuds. It should be fairly easy to complete this step, as you will want to focus on taking the metal part out of both sides. This way, you won’t need to deal with any snapped or broken plastic. Place both sides of the earbud, and the metal component, aside for later use.
  1. Get safe. Put your gloves and safety goggles on and prepare your cutting tool. It may be wise to complete this step in a secure area, over a newspaper or a plastic sheet. Any small particles or pieces of plastic can be difficult to clean up without these precautions. In addition, following these safety practices reduces the risk of injuries or accidents.
  1. Operate your cutting tool. Now that you’re wearing your safety gear, and you’re in a clean work area, you can go ahead and use your dremel or rotary tool to cut the flattened, rounded half of the electrode. Be sure that you’re cutting into the side that does not have a connector input or rubberized earbud tips. Leave the flattened, rectangular piece intact, and only remove the circular section of this singular piece.
  1. Make it smooth. Depending on the tool you use to cut the circular section from the non-electrode half of the clippable earbuds, you may be left with a slightly jagged plastic edge. 

This is where the sandpaper sheets come in handy. You can don your safety gloves and manually sand the edge, or you can use a machine to help you get the job done more quickly. Either way, it’s imperative to start with rougher, larger-grit paper and transition to smoother, smaller-grit varieties to finish.

  1. Repeat the process. Repeat the above steps with one more earbud electrode. With the remaining two earbuds, only repeat step one. This should leave you with eight total halves:
  • four with electrode buds
  • two that have been sawed
  • two that have remained virtually untouched
  1. Clean the area and prepare earbuds. Remove dust, debris, or trash from your work area. Using a soft, dry cloth, remove any oil or dust from the earbud halves. Doing so will help your adhesive work better, ensuring a long-lasting bond that won’t decay over time. Once you’ve cleaned your area and materials, it’s time to carefully open or prepare your adhesive and get ready to join your pieces together.
  1. Reassemble and join together. Take two of your electrode halves and join them with two of your sawed halves. You should use the metal components to help them snap together. You should now have two partially-complete earbud adapters. 

Now, take a free electrode half (you should have two left), and apply a small amount of strong adhesive to the inside portion, taking care not to touch the rubber or silicon bud. Then, quickly but steadily press the adhesive-covered earbud half to the outside of the sawed half of one of your put-together earbuds.

  1. Let it dry. After making sure that the buds align, apply pressure to both sides of your new, clippable earbud electrode. Then, let it rest for at least 24 hours before using it. Be sure to repeat the previous step once so that you end up with a pair of earbuds, each of which has two budded electrodes and one sawed half. 

As soon as the adhesive is completely dry and the unit is perfectly functional, you can begin to connect the channel wires to the earbuds.

  1. Identify the channels. Connect one red and one black wire into each pair of connector ports. These wires should connect at the bottom and form a pluggable channel adapter. Each ear will have its own channel.
  1. Enjoy. Place the earbuds on your tragus, the fleshy portion of the ear closest to the center of the face, and turn on your TENS unit, and enjoy your new vagus nerve stimulation device. 

Stripping Pads

If all of the above steps seem like too much work or too much expenditure, you could also choose to adapt the electrode pads that come with most TENS units to work with plastic earbud electrodes. This method requires far fewer tools, and far more affordable supplies. 

In any case, if you’d like to pursue this type of adaptation, you’ll need to gather:

  • Two pairs (4 total) plastic earbud electrodes
  • Two medium or small fabric and adhesive electrode pads
  • One roll of masking tape
  • One pair of scissors that are sharp enough to cut through stretchy fabric, thin plastic, and adhesive
  • A TENS unit that has two channels or outputs and features adjustable pulse width, frequency, and time

And as soon as you have all of your necessary supplies together in one clean, clutter-free workspace, you can go ahead and:

  1. Cut the pads. Take your scissors and cut the edges off the electrode pads, being sure not to cut too close to the center, where the fibers are located.
  1. Remove the fabric. You should now be able to separate the different layers of fabric and adhesive to reveal a small fan of black fibers. Discard the various fabric layers, as you won’t need them from this point forward.
  1. Attach the fibers. Tear a small portion of masking tape from the roll. Four inches should be enough. Then, hold the exposed fibers and cable to the outside edge of the rounded, connection-free half of one of your earbud electrodes. Ensure that the cable aligns with the long plastic arm, and secure with the portion of masking tape.
  1. Secure the fibers. You can either use your scissors or your finger to tear a skinny portion of masking tape from the roll. This piece will overlap the fan-like fibers, securing them to the opposite side of the circular piece. There should no longer be any fibers that stick out.
  1. Connect the charges. The stripped cable should already have a connector portion. Plug your red adapter into this side. Plug the black adapter into the built-in earbud connector. These two adapters should connect into a single cable that forms its own adapter, allowing you to connect two finished earbuds to a dual output device.
  1. Enjoy. Connect the earbud electrodes to your ear’s tragus, and turn your TENS unit on. Set the unit to appropriate settings and enjoy it. Be sure to always follow safety directions and advice before operating.

Health and Safety

As always, women who are pregnant, individuals with pacemakers, and those with electronic ear implants should never attempt tVNS. In addition, it may be wise to use the standard TENS settings when attempting at-home therapy. The recommended settings are:

  • Frequency: 25Hz
  • Pulse Width: 200–300 μs
  • Time: 15 to 20 minutes per session

Do not use a TENS unit on your head, neck, or eyes. It is also unsafe to use standard fabric electrode pads on your ears. Always use caution when operating a TENS unit near sensitive areas, including the ears. Never insert the earbud electrodes into the ear canal.

And of course, you should always consult with your physician before pursuing any new type of self-medication or home treatment.

Conclusion

Until such time that tVNS devices become common, effective, and ultra-comfortable, you can easily modify existing hardware to create your own therapeutic tVNS machine. The best units to use as tVNS machines are ones that have an adjustable frequency, pulse width, and time limit. Dual channels are also a must.

The AUVON EasyStim is our favorite, and it’s difficult to compete with its adjustability, dependability, and data transparency. It’s effective, affordable, and it can be adapted using either of the methods included in this article. However, there’s also the wallet-friendly TENS 7000, which has its own merit as a tVNS device.

Buyers looking for an upgraded unit can always invest in the iStim EV-804, which could quickly garner some attention with its protective flip-top cover, simple-yet-rugged design, and attractive accessories. Still, the best TENS unit for vagus nerve stimulation is the one that meets your budget, preferences, and needs.

Sources

Optimize Health 365

Hello my name is John and I created Optimize Health 365 in order to help people get pain relief through medication free solutions. I have extensively used TENS units for neck, shoulder, back and knee issues and became familiar with TENS therapy through countless visits to my chiropractor and physical therapist’s office. I have spent countless hours researching and reading how TENS therapy can alleviate pain quickly and safely.

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