The Best TENS Unit For Back Pain To Suit Every Budget 

TENS units are great for relieving back pain, so if you are in need of some relief you can find the best ones at each price point here. 

best TENS unit for back pain

If you've ever had physiotherapy treatment for your back pain, then you'll probably have experience of using a TENS unit. 

However if you haven't let me explain just what TENS therapy is. ​

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) ​therapy is the process of providing pain relief by stimulating the nerves of a pain area with electrical impulses. 

This blocks pain signals in this area from reaching the brain by way of distraction, while also releasing endorphins which are the body's natural painkiller. 

This is done through the​ use of a TENS unit, which delivers electricity to pads (called electrodes) that you place onto your skin close to the pain area. 

In this way a TENS unit can provide a safe and drug-free way to manage pain, and many people have found this treatment to work well for them. 

​Now the one's you see in your physio's office are very large and slightly menacing looking things!

​However you can buy your own (much smaller and completely unmenacing!) TENS unit for personal use, and these can be a great help in managing chronic pain.

In fact they are no bigger than mobile phones now, and are designed so you can use them on the move.

So they are​ perfect for site work, as you can attach the pads under your clothing and clip the TENS unit to your belt, or put it in your pocket.

And in this article I review and recommend the following TENS units, which are all great for giving you relief from persistent back pain:​

But first let's look at how they work, what the benefits of using them are, and if they come with any dangers or side-effects.

How Do I Use A TENS Unit?

How to use a TENS Unit

TENS units that you buy for personal use are small, lightweight, battery-operated devices that are designed to be used on the move.

To use them, you have to connect the leads provided to the device, and then attach self-adhesive electrode pads to the other end.

Then you attach these pads to your skin in the area where you are feeling the muscle pain.

The TENS unit will then deliver electrical impulses through these pads into your muscles and tissues, which stimulates your nerves and provides ​a tingling sensation in your muscles.

You can adjust the intensity of these impulses so the treatment stays comfortable for you, and also choose how long you want to keep the treatment going for.​

How Does a TENS Unit Bring Relief From Pain?​

TENS unit pain relief

As I mentioned briefly in the introduction, a TENS unit brings relief from pain by blocking pain signals from reaching your brain by electrically stimulating the nerves your pain area.

So the idea is to distract your brain away from the pain you are experiencing.​

And while this doesn't 'fix' anything, it can be a good method of relaxing the muscles and bringing you temporary relief from pain.​

So to go into a little more detail, it works ​in two ways:

Firstly, the electrical stimulation in the nerves provides an alternative (and competing) sensation for the brain to deal with other than just the pain.

​This alternate sensation can block the pain signals from being transmitted to the brain, meaning there are fewer signals from the source of pain.

So by distracting your brain away from these pain signals, you are reducing the levels of pain that you feel.​

Secondly, ​the electrical impulses also work to relax your back muscles and increase the release of endorphins into the system.

Which is great, because endorphins are a natural painkiller that also work to block pain signals to the brain.

So it's a win-win!​

Also, some of the more expensive TENS units are also able to offer electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) therapy.

EMS stimulates the muscles rather than the nerves, making them contract which increases the blood flow in the area.

This is a great therapy to help sore and stiff muscles heal and recover after strenuous activity, and for this reason it's used widely in the sporting world.

So if you choose a TENS unit that has both of these therapies then you are onto a winner!​

​However it should be noted that both TENS and EMS therapy can only provide you with temporary relief from pain, they won't fix your underlying problem.

What Are The Benefits Of Using a TENS Unit?

TENS unit benefits

While the results and pain relief are temporary, many people do find using a TENS unit regularly to be very helpful in managing their chronic pain.

So here are some of the main benefits TENS therapy can bring:​

  • Blocking pain signals to the brain means you get a temporary respite from the pain.
  • It relaxes and gently massages your sore muscles.
  • You can use it on the move, so it's a great option to keep you active and working without pain.
  • Using a TENS unit to manage your daily pain can reduce the need for pain medication.
  • Electrical impulses produce endorphins which will also improve your mood.

Is TENS Therapy Safe?

Are TENS units safe?

Photo credit: Hannah Sheffield

TENS therapy is thought to be a safe and drug-free method of pain management for most people that carries very few side-effects.

However there are some things you need to be aware of before using one:​

  • Seek medical advice before you use a TENS unit if you have epilepsy or heart problems.
  • Similarly they may not be suitable for people with a pacemaker or metal implants, so consult your doctor for advice.
  • The pads shouldn't be placed over irritated or broken skin.
  • You also shouldn't use the pads on any numb areas.
  • And don't use them on your head or neck either.
  • Some people may be allergic to the pads or gel. If that's the case you can buy special versions that are designed for sensitive skin.
  • If the tingling sensation feels painful when using the TENS unit turn the intensity down.
  • TENS units shouldn't be used when driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Don't overuse your TENS unit either. Aim for short bursts of pain relief during the day rather than continuous use.
  • Always follow the instructions that come with your specific TENS unit.

A Review Of The Best TENS Units For Back Pain

The amount of TENS units on the market can make choosing one an overwhelming experience, and it can be confusing to work out why some are considerably more expensive than others.

So do you really need to pay extra when there are cheaper options available?​

The answer to that depends on which features you need your TENS unit to have.​

​Therefore I hope this review of what I consider to be the best ones in each price bracket will make this process easier for you.

The higher end options come with more options and settings, but don't be put off by the lower end ones, as these can work wonders too.​

>> Back On Site Top Choice <<

HealthmateForever YK15RC Rechargeable TENS Unit

$$$$

HealthmateForever 15 modes TENS unit | Pain Management | Facilitate Muscle Performance | RechargeableLifetime Warranty | YK15RC (upgraded version of YK15AB)

Features

  • ​Combines two therapies in one device (TENS and EMS).
  • 15 preset programs (9 TENS programs, 6 EMS programs).
  • 20 intensity levels.
  • Dual output with 4 separate channels.
  • Backlit LCD display.
  • 8 electrode pads.
  • Timer (10-80 minutes).
  • Rechargeable battery.
  • Lifetime warranty.

Portability

  • A similar size to a TV remote (2.25" x 6.25").
  • Lightweight (4.2 ozs).
  • Comes with a belt clip included.

Ease of use

  • Each program has a clearly labelled button.
  • 15 pre-set programs mean no need to set up manually.
  • Speed and intensity easy to adjust.
  • Backlit LCD screen is easy to read.
  • Instructions not the best, but easy to get the hang of.

Summary

The HealthmateForever YK15RC TENS unit is a top quality, powerful device that provides relief from pain all over the body alongside muscle stimulation that helps to loosen muscles and help them recover.

To do this it combines two treatments in one device: TENS therapy for nerve stimulation (pain management) and EMS therapy ​(electrical muscle stimulation) for muscle recovery and relaxation.

​It comes with 15 pre-set programs.

There are 9 TENS modes, with each one labelled and designed to work a different area of the body (these are: neck, shoulder, back, elbow, hip, ankle, knee, foot/hand, and wrist).

This makes it easy to use and saves you having to program anything manually. You can just change the speed and intensity settings of each program to your own liking.​

The 6 EMS modes are based on traditional Chinese massage therapies​ that work on your acupressure points (tuina, acupuncture, tapping, cupping, scraping, random).

​So by using this TENS unit in the massage (EMS) mode you can gain the benefits of acupunture at a fraction of the cost.

There is an acupressure placement point chart included with this unit so you know exactly where to place the pads to get the most benefit.​

This TENS unit is also very powerful and it is unlikely that you will need or want to use the highest settings.

And the 20 intensity levels it contains means you can fine-tune the intensity of your treatment precisely, finding exactly the right strength for your pain.​

​It has a dual output with 4 channels which means that you can use different speeds and intensities on two different areas of the body at the same time. 

Which is great if your pain is not limited to just your back!

However one downside to this unit is that while you can work with different intensities on different areas of the body, you can't use different programs.

So you can't use the back program on one channel and the shoulder program on the other for example. You'd have to stick with just one and adjust the intensity of that instead.​

This TENS unit is very portable.

While not the smallest on the market it is extremely light, and the belt clip that comes with it makes it easy to attach as you go about your working day.

HealthmateForever 15 modes TENS unit | Pain Management | Facilitate Muscle Performance | RechargeableLifetime Warranty | YK15RC (upgraded version of YK15AB)

​It's also fairly easy to use.

Each program has a clearly labelled button on the device and the screen shows a flashing image of the body part you have chosen to work.

Changing speed and intensity level is simple using the + and - buttons.

And the 15 pre-set programs mean you don't need to manually set up anything. 

There is also an easy to use timer function that you can set for anywhere between 10-80 minutes and the machine will shut down automatically afterwards.

​This TENS unit also comes with a backlit LCD screen that makes the data on it easy to read even in dim conditions.

A big plus with this device is that it comes with a rechargeable lithium battery (along with a USB charger and adaptor).

HealthmateForever 15 modes TENS unit | Pain Management | Facilitate Muscle Performance | RechargeableLifetime Warranty | YK15RC (upgraded version of YK15AB)

This is a great feature and takes the hassle out of having to replace batteries constantly. You just charge​ it like you would your phone.

And the battery life is great between charges. It's claimed on the site to last for upto 10 hours, although plenty of people have experienced even greater length of battery life than this.​

Finally I should mention that this unit comes with a lifetime warranty, which is pretty fantastic.​

However while there are so many plus points here, there are also a few minor niggles.

As I've already mentioned, the fact you can't use two different body programs at the same time is a real shame and hopefully something HealthmateForever will look at on future updates of this machine.

Also, as with lots of TENS units, the instructions aren't that great. However I think it is still easy enough to figure out.

And lastly there is no lock button on the device, which could pose a problem if you are carrying it around in your pocket instead of using the belt clip.

But despite these very minor flaws, the HealthmateForever YK15RC is top quality TENS unit that is great for relieving lower back pain and also helping muscles to loosen and recover, both during and after activity.

Pros and Cons​

  • ​Relieves pain and loosens muscles.
  • Good for muscle recovery.
  • Works on your acupressure points.
  • Extremely powerful.
  • Rechargeable battery.
  • Portable.
  • Easy to use and understand.
  • 20 intensity levels allows precise fine-tuning.
  • Dual output over 4 channels means you can treat two areas at the same time.
  • Backlit LCD screen makes it easy to read.
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty.
  • Can't use two different body programs at the same time.
  • Instructions not great.
  • No lock button.

Overall Back On Site rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars


iReliev TENS and EMS Combination Unit

$$$

iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator for Pain Relief & Arthritis & Muscle Strength - Treats Tired and Sore Muscles in Your Shoulders, Back, Ab's, Legs, Knee's and More

Features

  • ​Up to 80 MA of power.
  • Combines two therapies in one device (TENS and EMS).
  • ​14 pre-set programs.
  • 1 program especially for arthritis and chronic pain.
  • 25 intensity levels.
  • 2 separate channels.
  • Two styles of electrode pads (large and small).
  • Timer (5-60 minutes).
  • 1 year warranty.

Portability

  • Very small (2" x 3.5").
  • Lightweight (6 ozs).
  • Comes with a belt clip and holster.

Ease of use

  • 14 computer programs mean no need to set up manually.
  • Clearly labelled buttons.
  • Instructions are not perfect but it's easy enough to figure out.

Summary

The iReliev TENS and EMS unit also combines two therapies within a single TENS unit.

The TENS therapy is for pain management while the EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) function ​stimulates muscles to increase blood flow which helps muscles recover from overuse and injury.

​So not only can you reduce your pain levels during the day, this device is great for easing stiff and sore muscles after a heavy day at work.

The EMS works in a similar way to getting a massage, and can help condition and tone the muscles in your back as well as healing them.​

​This unit comes with 14 pre-set programs (7 TENS programs, 6 EMS programs, 1 program for arthritis) and you can find out the details of these programs here.

iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator for Pain Relief & Arthritis & Muscle Strength - Treats Tired and Sore Muscles in Your Shoulders, Back, Ab's, Legs, Knee's and More

The program designed especially for arthritis is a great one for those of us with chronic pain and is a big advantage of this model.​

There is also a timer option that allows you to set the length of your treatment for between 5-60 minutes, after which the unit will turn itself off.​

iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator for Pain Relief & Arthritis & Muscle Strength - Treats Tired and Sore Muscles in Your Shoulders, Back, Ab's, Legs, Knee's and More

This unit is powerful, with an output of 0-80 milliamps which should be more than enough for most people.

And the 25 intensity levels it contains means you can fine-tuning the strength of your treatment very precisely, making it much easier to find the right level of intensity for your pain.​

The dual channel system means that you can run two different programs to different areas of the body at the same time. 

It also comes with both large and small pads that you can use depending on which area you are targeting, making this unit very versatile.

iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator for Pain Relief & Arthritis & Muscle Strength - Treats Tired and Sore Muscles in Your Shoulders, Back, Ab's, Legs, Knee's and More

You get 8 small pads and 4 large pads with this unit, however there are common complaints that they tend to lose their stickiness and need replacing fairly regularly.​

This unit is extremely portable which makes it great if you are on the move all day at work.

It looks like an old school iPod, but is smaller and will fit easily into your pocket.

iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Muscle Stimulator for Pain Relief & Arthritis & Muscle Strength - Treats Tired and Sore Muscles in Your Shoulders, Back, Ab's, Legs, Knee's and More

However there's no need for that as it comes with a belt clip and holster so you can lock it in place as you go about your day.

​It is easy enough to get the hang of using, however the instructions do leave a little to be desired.

And pre-set programs mean you don't need to manually set up anything. Just select one and away you go.

​So are there any downsides to this TENS unit?

​Well one is the lack of a backlit screen. This can make it hard to read in poorly lighted areas.

Also this unit runs on AAA batteries rather than being rechargeable.

And while ​the battery life is very good, it's still an added cost and hassle having to keep buying new batteries.

However if you want a TENS unit that can bring you temporary pain relief from chronic pain and arthritis, can massage your muscles to help them recover and strengthen, and is perfect to use on the go, then this could be the one for you. 

Pros and Cons​

  • ​Combines pain management and muscle recovery treatments in one device.
  • Dedicated program for chronic pain and arthritis.
  • Extremely portable.
  • Powerful for it's size.
  • 25 intensity levels makes fine-tuning more precise.
  • Dual channels mean you can treat two areas with different programs at the same time.
  • Comes with different sizes of pads for different purposes.
  • Comes with a 1-year warranty.
  • Has a lock button so won't change intensity in your pocket.
  • AAA batteries rather than rechargeable.
  • Display isn't backlit so may be hard to read in dim areas.
  • Electrode pads lose their stickiness fairly quickly.

Overall Back On Site rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars


ZEWA SpaBuddy Sport Tens Pain Therapy

$$

Zewa FDA Approved SpaBuddy Sport TENS Drug Free Affordable Pain Relief Electronic Pulse Massager Back Pain Knee Pain Arthritis Relief

Features

  • ​Up to 100 MA of power.
  • 8 electrical massage programs.
  • 30 intensity levels.
  • 2 separate channels.
  • Large LCD display.
  • 4 electrode pads.
  • Timer (5-95 minutes).
  • 2 year warranty on main unit.

Portability

  • Smaller than an iPhone (2.5" x 4").
  • Lightweight (4.8 ozs).
  • Doesn't come with a belt clip or carry case, you need to buy your own.

Ease of use

  • Very easy to operate and understand.
  • 8 computer programs mean no need to set up manually.
  • Clearly labelled buttons.
  • Large LCD screen is easy to read.
  • Ready to go straight from the box.

Summary

The ZEWA SpaBuddy TENS unit is a great mid-range option for those that want a mixture of power, portability and ease of use.

​It comes with 8 pre-set electrical massage programs that are all tailored to suit different pain levels and problems (for a list of details for each of these programs click here).

By testing these programs out one by one you'll find the one that works best for you.

Zewa FDA Approved SpaBuddy Sport TENS Drug Free Affordable Pain Relief Electronic Pulse Massager Back Pain Knee Pain Arthritis Relief

This TENS unit also packs a punch. With an output of 0-100 milliamps it is stronger than many others in it's price range.

And the 30 intensity levels it contains means you have far more control when fine-tuning the strength of your treatment, which makes it much easier to find the right level for your pain.​

​It is also a dual channel system. This means that you can run two different programs to different areas of the body at the same time. 

Zewa FDA Approved SpaBuddy Sport TENS Drug Free Affordable Pain Relief Electronic Pulse Massager Back Pain Knee Pain Arthritis Relief

So if your back and shoulder are aching at the same time you don't have to choose which one to treat!

What makes this such a good TENS unit for workers ​especially is how portable it is.

The unit is smaller than an iPhone, lightweight and will fit easily into your pocket.

Zewa FDA Approved SpaBuddy Sport TENS Drug Free Affordable Pain Relief Electronic Pulse Massager Back Pain Knee Pain Arthritis Relief

Unfortunately it doesn't come with a protective carry case or belt clip, but these can be purchased seperately and at little expense. 

​And as the name suggests, it is great for aching, sore and stiff muscles after sporting exertions.

So it's ideal for your aching muscles after a hard days grafting!​

​It's also fantastically easy to use, even for the biggest technophobes.

There are only three large buttons (on/off, program, timer) which are prominent and self-explanatory.

Changing the program and intensity levels is as simple as changing the volume on a TV with the up and down arrows.

And the 8 electrical massage programs that come built in mean you don't need to manually set up anything. Just select one and you're good to go.

The timer function lets you choose how long your treatment will last before the unit will turn itself off.

This can be anywhere between 5-95 minutes, however you can choose to ​leave it in continuous mode and just turn it off yourself when you've had enough.

​This large LCD screen on this TENS unit is a big bonus as it makes the data uncluttered and easy to read.

​However one downside of the screen is that it isn't backlit, so you may struggle to see it well in poorly lighted areas.

​There are a couple more minor niggles with this TENS unit as well.

The electrode pads that are supplied with the machine are a bit sticky and not the best around.

Zewa FDA Approved SpaBuddy Sport TENS Drug Free Affordable Pain Relief Electronic Pulse Massager Back Pain Knee Pain Arthritis Relief

However it is easy to buy different ones yourself, and the ZEWA unit is compatable with all the standard types of electrode pad so you're not locked in to using theirs if you don't want to.

Also this unit runs on AAA batteries rather than being rechargeable.

And while ​the battery life is very good, it's still an added cost and hassle having to keep buying new batteries.

All in all though the ZEWA SpaBuddy TENS unit is a fantastic choice if you're after an easy to use, powerful machine at a decent price that you can use on the go.

Pros and Cons​

  • ​Very portable.
  • Very easy to use and understand.
  • Powerful for it's size.
  • 30 intensity levels makes fine-tuning more precise.
  • Dual channels so can treat two areas with different programs at the same time.
  • Large LCD screen.
  • Comes with a 2-year warranty on the main unit.
  • Has a lock button so won't change program in your pocket!
  • AAA batteries rather than rechargeable.
  • Doesn't come with a protective carry case or belt clip.
  • Display isn't backlit.
  • Electrode pads that come with this aren't the best.

Overall Back On Site rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars


Omron Electrotherapy Pain Relief Device PM3030

$

Omron Pain Relief TENS Unit (PM3030)

Features

  • 3 pre-set programs.
  • 5 intensity levels.
  • Only 1 channel.
  • 2 electrode pads.
  • 1 year limited warranty.

Portability

  • Very small (2.1" x 3.7").
  • Lightweight (2.1 ounces).
  • Curved design makes it easy to grip.
  • Clip on it is not very effective.

Ease of use

  • Couldn't be easier to operate and understand.
  • 3 pre-set programs mean no need to set anything up manually.
  • Only a few large buttons to work it.
  • Comes with a placement guide and easy to follow instructions.

Summary

The Omron Electrotherapy PM3030 TENS unit is an easy to use yet fairly powerful budget option.

​It comes with 3 pre-set programs (one each for arm, lower back, foot/leg) so you don't need to manually set up anything.

It also has 5 intensity levels which you can use to adjust each program to the strength and intensity that is comfortable for you.

However only having 5 intensity levels could prove problematic as there is a bigger jump between each one which means you might struggle to find an intensity that is right for you.

Higher priced TENS units nowadays typically come​ with 15, 20 or even 30 intensity levels which gives the user far more control when fine-tuning.

Having said that, this TENS unit still packs a punch for the price, meaning you can get good pain relief.

Omron Pain Relief TENS Unit (PM3030)

It has helped many people with arthritis and chronic pain.​

​It is only a single channel system. So unlike the other units in this review, you can only treat one area of the body at a time. 

One great thing about this TENS unit is just how portable it is.

The unit is tiny, the curved design is easy to grip and it will fit easily into your pocket.

It comes with a clip which you can use to attach to you as you move, however this is pretty useless so you'll end up with it in your pocket anyway!

​It's also the easiest of all the devices here to use.

There are only four large buttons (on/off button, program choosing button, and an up and down button to set intensity) which are prominent and self-explanatory.

You'll figure it out easily, although the instructions are detailed and easy to follow. There is also a placement guide included so you know where to place the pads for the maximum effect.

As with any budget option, there are a few areas where this TENS unit falls down.

Firstly, the two electrode pads that are supplied with the machine are not the best and tend to lose their stickiness quickly and need replacing.

Omron Pain Relief TENS Unit (PM3030)

Also the fact that there are only 2 pads means you may not be able to cover a big enough area to ease your pain like you could with another unit that had 4 or 8 pads.

Secondly, there is no timer that you can set with this unit. Instead it will automatically shut off​ after 15 minutes of treatment.

This can become quite annoying if you want to use it for a longer period as you have to keep restarting the program every quarter of an hour!

Thirdly, this unit runs on 2 x AAA batteries rather than being rechargeable.

And while ​the battery life is excellent, it's still an minor hassle to have to keep buying new batteries.

Finally, there is no lock button, which means you could accidently change the settings while it is in your pocket if you are on the move.​

​However having said all that, this is still a great little unit at the price.

While it lacks the features and versatility of more expensive models​, it is an ideal option if you are on a tight budget or just want a cheap unit to test out TENS therapy before buying a more advanced device.

Pros and Cons​

  • ​Very portable.
  • Very easy to use and understand.
  • Curved design makes it easy to grip.
  • Powerful for it's size.
  • Comes with a 1-year warranty.
  • ​Only single channel.
  • Only 5 intensity levels.
  • ​Automatically stops after 15 minutes of treatment.
  • No lock button.
  • AAA batteries rather than rechargeable.
  • Belt clip is not that effective.
  • Electrode pads that come with this aren't the best.
  • Only two pads, may not cover large enough area for some.

Overall Back On Site rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Do TENS Units Actually Work?

While TENS units have been a great help for many people in managing their pain, others have failed to feel the benefits.

So do they really work?​

Well it seems a lot of it is down to individual experience, as the scientific evidence is not that great up to now.

For instance, there have been a couple of studies that have ​claimed to show that TENS therapy has been effective for lowering musculoskeletal pain (1) and is better for improving pain and sensitivity in muscle knots than physical muscle stimulation (2).

However the majority of these studies have been inconclusive, leading some to suggest that TENS therapy may be little more than a placebo effect.​

​But while this lack of scientific evidence is a worry, the widespread use of TENS units in medical facilities and the relief that many people have experienced from using them makes them worth a try in my book.

They don't need to set you back a lot of money either, as you have many cheap options that can still give you relief.​

And as there are no real side-effect​s, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving one a go.

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Daniel

I'm a Painter and Decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help my fellow construction workers to fight back against persistent back pain like I have.