If you’re struggling with chronic back pain, a TENS unit might be right up your alley. TENS units use electrical stimulation to reduce your nerves’ ability to transmit pain. By definition, TENS units are complicated devices.
TENS units must interface with your nerves and prompt them to stop transmitting pain signals without interfering with their function when your body needs them the most. Picking a TENS unit is thus extremely difficult.
Some TENS units are easy to use and effective at reducing pain. Others are more like complicated medical devices that leave users to be confused and remain in pain. Others still are ineffective due to their shoddy construction.
In this article, we’ll look at the best TENS units in the market for back pain. We’ll explain what makes each TENS unit effective and what features you need to look for when you are trying to find a solution to your back pain.
When you are done reading you will understand how to be an informed consumer and a careful patient when it comes to picking out a TENS unit for your back pain. With luck, your pain will soon reside with the help of the TENS unit you find.
TENS Unit Reviews: Our Top 5 Choices
Our #1 Choice - Santamedical PM-470 Blue Tens Unit Electronic Pulse Massager with Rechargeable Battery
The Santamedical PM-470 Blue Tens Unit Electronic Pulse Massager with Rechargeable Battery is an easy-to-use and very safe TENS unit which is backed by an abundance of documentation and regulatory oversight.
The Santamedical TENS unit is hard to beat regarding its safety and efficacy. With its graphical user interface and understandable functions, the unit gets out of the way of the electricity’s ability to treat your back pain.
Placing the electrodes is easy with the help of the manual and picture-based system. You can even easily figure out the optimal electrode placement for the area of your back pain with the help of the system.
This unit is also FDA-approved and subjected to a heavy amount of regulatory oversight because of its clinical applications. It is very hard to harm yourself using this TENS unit, which is not true of other less reputable devices on the market.
While the unit is optimized for holistic TENS benefits like immune system stimulation and sleep quality rather than pain relief, it is still effective in that role.
There may be better TENS units for back pain specifically, but if you are looking for a multifunctional TENS unit which can help your back pain while also helping you with other issues, this TENS unit is one of the best options.
Our #2 Choice - HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS Unit
The HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS Unit is a lumbar-oriented TENS unit with 15 different modes and a tremendous amount of electrical power.
With the HealthmateForever TENS unit, you will have access to an extremely powerful electrical stimulator which has a ton of different functions. The different functions of the Healthmate unit are accessed via the button-based interface on the front.
The documentation of this unit is good, but the interface is still somewhat complicated compared to other units. You don’t need to worry about getting relief for your back pain with this unit, however.
The unit’s ability to project power into your musculature and nerves is almost impossible to beat. The unit can supply so much power that it can cause skin irritation and even burns if it is not used properly. You will need to use caution while using this unit.
Following instructions and moderating the power output is not optional when you use this unit. You would not want to exacerbate your back pain by giving yourself a skin-level burn with the unit. If you relieved your back pain with a low voltage, it is advisable to stick to that voltage with this unit.
Because of this unit’s somewhat difficult user interface and potential to cause discomfort or harm, novice TENS users may want to avoid it. More experienced TENS users or users with treatment-resistant back pain will probably find that this unit is among the most powerful they have ever used, however.
The different settings that this unit offers are a plus, but they may not be supported by the scientific literature as any more effective than the standard TENS routines. You may find that these alternative patterns are effective for you, so it is worth experimenting.
These alternative configurations include a random stimulation pattern, which may not be advisable to use. The random pattern could potentially actuate your nerves to a higher level of excitation than they had when they were causing you chronic pain, which might cause you more pain.
As long as you tread carefully while using this unit, you will find that it is very effective.
Our #3 Choice - TECHCARE Massager TENS Unit With 24 Modes
The TECHCARE Massager TENS Unit With 24 Modes is a highly technological and portable TENS unit which uses low-voltage at carefully calibrated points for maximum efficiency.
The TECHCARE TENS unit has no fewer than six programs devoted specifically to back pain in different areas of the back. There is also a plurality of programs for areas other than the back, and these are as effective as the others.
The unit’s instruction manual will help you with finding the proper electrode placements. Importantly, the unit also sends test pulses once you have placed the electrodes. Using electrical resistance, the unit can tell if you have positioned the electrodes roughly properly.
This automated positioning assistance is imperfect, but it is still a great feature which most other TENS units do not have.
This unit uses lower voltages than others to keep you safe and comfortable. There is no chance of misusing this unit to the detriment of your back or other body parts.
While this unit is great for back pain, it does not have many stimulation programs which are designed to help with non-musculoskeletal issues.
Given that there are other units which purport to stimulate with the aim of improving function in the liver, spleen, immune system, and other areas, you should consider whether you want these features or not.
If you want a more well-rounded unit, this is probably not the unit for you. But, if you want a TENS unit that can address every musculoskeletal pain issue that you face with equal efficiency, this is the right unit for you.
Users who have back pain will not be disappointed owing to its multitude of specialized back pain treatment programs.
Our #4 Choice - NURSAL TENS Unit Rechargeable FDA Cleared Electronic Pain Relief Massager With 8 Pads
The NURSAL TENS Unit Rechargeable FDA Cleared Electronic Pain Relief Massager With 8 Pads is a back-pain focused TENS unit which has a unique electrode shape that may provide superior relief for some patients.
The NURSAL unit has eight programs, all of which can be applied to back pain. Notably, the unit has ten levels of strength, so you should be able to address even the most serious back pain.
The unit is small, which is a nice bonus for people who want to take their TENS unit with them.
The default settings on this TENS unit make it nearly usable out of the box. The electrodes are fairly large, which means that there is not any chance of burning yourself when you use this unit at high intensities.
On that note, patients should know that the electrodes are very wide on this model. This has a few consequences. First, the amount of electricity delivered per square inch of your body is lower. This makes the unit safer.
Second, the electricity will not penetrate as deeply through your tissue at any given point. If you have one specific problem area that is very small, the electrodes on this unit may be too imprecise to affect the bundle of nerves at the site.
If, on the other hand, you have an issue like a ruptured disc, where the pain is diffuse and also deep, this unit is ideal. The wide electrodes can more easily affect the entire area than a narrower shaped electrode might.
There are also enough output electrodes to set up multiple paths for the electricity within a given area of your body. This means that you can penetrate the same zone with more energy that will relax your overactive pain nerves.
Unfortunately, you can’t use this unit while it is charging. This somewhat detracts from its mobile functionality. Nonetheless, the unit has a strong battery life, and you can purchase a replaceable battery so you should be able to stimulate your muscles whenever you need to even if you are on the road.
Our #5 Choice - TENS 7000 2nd Edition Digital TENS Unit With Accessories
The TENS 7000 2nd Edition Digital TENS Unit With Accessories is a veritable clinical-grade TENS kit that contains everything you need to perform TENS on most common pains and injuries.
With this TENS unit, you will get a small handful of therapy modes, all of which are carefully calibrated to hit the right mixture of strength, voltage pulsing, and treatment duration.
This is not the TENS unit that has every stimulation feature under the sun -- it leaves the user to adapt the protocols to their injury rather than have a perfectly adapted unit.
The unit comes with two sets of wires, four electrodes, a nine-volt battery, and a carrying case. The carrying case is an underrated addition which makes keeping all of the unit’s accessories in one place much easier.
The unit only has four electrodes, which may seem like a disadvantage. But more electrodes is not always better. Electrodes increase the number of different nerve bundles you can stimulate at the same time, but it also makes placement much more complicated.
With four electrodes, you get a very focused and fairly easy to use TENS package.
This unit has a nine-volt battery, which is fairly small by TENS standards. Thankfully, it is less heavy than other TENS unit batteries, which means that this unit is a bit easier to carry with you.
Finally, the guide materials with this unit are especially good. The quick start guide will get you using the unit right out of the box, unlike with most other TENS units.
What Features To Look For In A TENS Unit
There are a few things you need to look for when you purchase a TENS unit of your own.
First, you need to make sure the TENS unit will address the back issues that you have. Superficial back issues that are mostly in your outer layers of muscle and skin will be better served by a TENS unit which has wider electrodes.
On the other hand, deeper pain will require small electrodes and greater sums of power.
On the note of power, you do not need to worry very much about the maximum power output of your TENS unit in most cases. Small amounts of voltage are enough, provided that they are delivered to the precisely correct location.
Next, you’ll also need a TENS unit that is both safe and easy to use. For TENS units, these concepts are very closely related. Safety features include good instructional materials, voltage limits, duration limits, and sensical stimulation options.
Without these features you could give yourself a burn or potentially make your pain worse. Ease of use features like a good graphical interface help cut down on confusion. Confusion can be dangerous and cause discomfort.
Ultimately, ease of use is thus the most important feature of your TENS unit. No matter how complicated the unit appears to be, if you understand exactly how to configure it to address your needs in a repeatable way, it is safer than a unit which might be simpler but makes less sense to you.
You will probably want to trial a few TENS units until you find one where the manual and the user interface feels the most natural and understandable to you.
TENS Unit Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Electrodes Do I Need?
The number of electrodes in a TENS unit should be more than two. Anything with less than four electrodes will probably leave you struggling to provide enough stimulation area to affect your back pain.
This is mostly because your back’s nerves are fairly sparse. Your electrode placement will never be perfect, so you will need a bit of extra coverage to make up for the inaccuracy. With only two electrodes, you will probably miss the area you need to treat.
Having too many electrodes makes setting up your TENS stimulation much slower, so there is a tradeoff that you should be aware of. If you find setting up the electrodes to be the most laborious part of the process, you may want to stick to around six electrodes.
How Durable Are TENS Units?
TENS units are extremely durable so long as they are used within their specs.
If you modify the unit in a way which voids the manufacturer’s warranty, all bets are off.
You should be able to use the same TENS units very heavily without worrying about any kind of issue.
How Much Voltage Do I Need?
The amount of voltage you need depends on the depth of your back pain. The deeper your pain, the more voltage will be necessary to effectively reach the site of the pain.
If your pain is mostly at the skin level, you can get away with very low voltage levels. This means you can buy a unit that does not have a maximum power that is very high. There are a number of TENS units which are optimized for these low-voltage applications.
Take heed that the lower-voltage TENS units are not the most effective at functions aside from treating back pain. While these other applications of TENS are mostly unproven, if you plan on using your TENS unit for something like immune system stimulation, you will benefit from a unit that has a higher maximum possible voltage.
For most users, it is to your advantage to buy a unit with a high maximum power but with a high resolution of power options. These units will give you the ability to mostly use low power settings on a daily basis while leaving the door open to higher voltages when it is necessary.