4 weeks ago

What Are The Best TENS Units For Back Pain Relief At Home?

Using a portable TENS unit is a great way of relieving back pain in the comfort of your own home. So, find out which ones you should go for here.

My Top Pick

The Best TENS Unit For Back Pain

This is my top choice as it provides the pain relief you'd expect from a TENS unit, but can also condition your back muscles via the EMS programs to help prevent the pain from returning in the future.

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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 what TENS therapy is. 

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

As this stimulation blocks pain signals from reaching the brain by way of distraction, which greatly reduces the amount of pain you feel and experience. 

And 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 your area of pain. 

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

And while the ones you see in your physio's office often look huge and slightly menacing, there are much smaller (and completely unmenacing!) personal TENS units available that you can buy to use at home.

In fact, many are no bigger than a regular smartphone and they can be a great help in managing your chronic back pain.

So, let me introduce you to the TENS units for back pain that I'd personally recommend, which are all great for giving you relief from persistent pain.

The Best TENS Unit Overall For Your Back Pain

The Top Reason You Should Buy The iReliev TENS And EMS Combo Unit

  • You want an effective and easy to use TENS machine that can relieve your pain and help stop it from returning again.

Most of the higher end TENS units will also have an electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) functionality which is a great thing.

Because not only do you get pain relief from the TENS stimulation, you can also condition your muscles with the EMS programs to prevent the pain from reoccurring in the future.

And a great TENS and EMS combo unit that I'd have no hesitation in recommending is the iReliev Rechargeable TENS & EMS Unit.

As this one comes with features that make it especially great for people with chronic back pain.

Firstly, there are 14 pre-set programs (8 TENS programs and 6 EMS programs) so it's easy to use straight out of the box.

This includes six programs designed for people with chronic pain and one specifically to help people with arthritis.

And these programs all range in intensity and sensation, so you'll be able to find the one that's just right for you.

But you're not just limited to the preset programs, as you can adjust the strength and treatment manually with the 25 intensity levels available with this machine.

And you get great power out of this TENS unit as it goes all the way up to 80 milliamps of discharge.

Which, trust me, is more than enough no matter how strong you like it!

There is also a dual channel feature that allows you to work two different areas of the body (or your back) at different intensities simultaneously.

And there are both large and small electrode pads that you can use depending on which area you are targeting, making this unit very versatile.

Plus it's light, portable, and has a back-lit screen which makes it easy to see what you're doing.

The timer function lets you set it to run for between 5-60 minutes.

And unlike cheaper TENS units, this one has a rechargeable battery, so you don't have the hassle of constantly having to replace AAA batteries.

So, if you want a high quality TENS unit that can give you relief from back pain, and also has an EMS function that can condition and massage your back muscles, then this could be the one for you.

PRO​S

  • Combines two therapies in one device (TENS & EMS) to give you pain relief and muscle conditioning.
  • 15 preset programs make it easy to use and include six for chronic pain and one for arthritis.
  • Has 25 intensity levels so you can adjust the strength and power of treatment precisely.
  • Dual channels mean you can work two different areas with different programs simultaneously.
  • Has large and small electrode pads to suit any area.
  • Small, lightweight, and portable.

CONS

  • The electrode pads are connected to the TENS unit by wires, so some people may prefer the wireless version below.

The Best Wireless TENS Unit For Back Pain

The Top Reason You Should Buy The iReliev Playmakar Wireless TENS Unit

  • You want the pain relief and muscle conditioning that a TENS and EMS unit can bring you, but without the wires.

While most TENS units are small and portable nowadays, there is still one problem that can make them a bit cumbersome to use.

And that is all the wires.

Because you'll have to attach each of the 4-8 electrode pads to the TENS device with wires for them to work.

Which can make it feel a little uncomfortable if you're using one while moving around the house.

However, a good solution to this is to pay a little extra and get yourself a wireless TENS unit instead.

As this will free you up to move around unrestricted and without any potential accidents.

And a great example of this is the iReliev Playmakar Wireless TENS Unit.

This one is almost identical to the iReliev TENS & EMS combo unit that we recommended earlier, but with one big difference.

No wires!

Instead, it comes with two wireless pods that you attach to the electrode pads that you place on your skin at your area of pain.

And you then operate these pods from the actual TENS unit via a Bluetooth connection.

You also have the option of adding extra pods if you want to serve more areas of your body at the same time.

As this unit has quad channels, which means you can set each pod to run at different intensities in up to 4 different areas if you want to. 

And it still has the same 14 preset programs, and 25 intensity levels of the iReliev wired TENS & EMS unit.

So, all in all it's a great TENS unit and the best option if you want a wireless one you can use comfortably to get pain relief on the move.

Check out the video below to see it in action.

PRO​S

  • It's wireless and works via a Bluetooth connection between the TENS unit and the wearable pods, so a great device for people on the move.
  • Combines two therapies in one device (TENS & EMS) to give you pain relief and muscle conditioning.
  • 14 preset programs make it easy to use and include six for chronic pain and one for arthritis.
  • Has 25 intensity levels so you can adjust the strength and power of treatment precisely.
  • Quad channels mean you can work four different areas with different programs simultaneously.
  • Small, lightweight, and portable.

CONS

  • The wearable pods may lose their stickiness and need replacing sooner than the 25-30 uses advertised.

A Great Smartphone Operated TENS For Back Pain

The Top Reason You Should Buy The PowerDot 2.0 Smart Muscle Stimulator

  • You want to be able to turn your smartphone into a powerful and effective TENS unit.

Another option to get TENS therapy without the wires is to use one that is controlled via an app on your smartphone.

And as incredible as it sounds, you can do just that with the PowerDot 2.0 Smart Muscle Stimulator.

As to use this device you simply download the PowerDot app to your phone, enter your personal details, then connect it via Bluetooth with the PowerDot pod.

And through the app you can then control it, so essentially your smartphone becomes a TENS unit.

So, there are over 15 pre-set muscle stimulation programs you could use if you want to get started quickly, and you can vary the intensity manually on each of these.

However, you can also use the SMART option and the app will then use it's algorithm to select a program for you depending on your type of pain, where it is, it's intensity, and your pain tolerance.

And this is where the PowerDot can come into it's own and be great for helping people recovery from muscle injuries and reduce their pain levels.

The app will also track your progress over time too, which is good for encouraging you to use TENS therapy on your back regularly.

And the pod is easy to connect to the electrode pads you place on your skin, as they attach via a magnetic snap that is great for holding it in place.  

Now in the UNO version of the PowerDot 2.0 you only get one pod, so you'll only be able to work one area of the body at a time.

However, you can go for the DUO version if you want to have two pods that work independently of each other at the same time, although this can make the device a little expensive. 

PRO​S

  • It's wireless and works via an app on your Smartphone, making it the most portable on our list.
  • Combines two therapies in one device (TENS & EMS) to give you pain relief and muscle recovery.
  • Has over 15 preset muscle stimulation programs which make it easy to use and get started.
  • You can manually change the intensity via the app to control the strength and level of treatment.
  • The SMART system can auto select a program for you based on your pain.
  • The magnetic snaps on the electrode pads make it easy to attach the pod and hold it in place.

CONS

  • May feel a bit gimmicky and is liable to go wrong more than a traditional TENS unit.
  • Is a bit pricey if you opt for the DUO model.

A Good Value Budget TENS Unit For Back Pain

The Top Reason You Should Buy The Healthmate Forever TENS Unit

  • You want a simple TENS unit that works well for your back pain but doesn't hit you too hard in the pocket.

When you buy a TENS unit from the lower end of the price range then you are going to have to make do without certain features.

But that doesn't mean that you can't find good value here.

Because you can still find cheaper models that can give you a good hit of TENS therapy and help to ease your aching muscles.

And one such example of this is the HealthmateForever YK15AB Tens Unit.

As this one does a good job of being a no-nonsense TENS unit but with a couple of extra features over others at this price point.

Firstly, it has 15 built in programs of various intensity levels to choose from, with 6 being different types of massage and 9 custom programs for the different areas of the body..

And you can also adjust the intensity of this TENS unit manually, with 20 intensity levels to choose from.

So, you'll be able to get it to the right level that feels comfortable for you with ease.

Then there is the dual channel feature that allows you to work different parts of the body simultaneously, which is very rare for lower priced TENS units.

And you have 8 electrode pads to attach to your skin, four for each channel, so you can get muscle stimulation in multiple places at once.

While the back-lit display and descriptive buttons make it super easy to use. 

PRO​S

  • 15 preset programs including six for varying massage techniques and nine for different body areas.
  • Has 20 intensity levels so you can adjust the strength and speed of treatment for each program.
  • Dual channels mean you can work two different areas with different programs simultaneously.
  • Has 8 electrode pads so you can work many areas.
  • It's decent value for what you pay.

CONS

  • Doesn't have as many features or bells and whistles as more expensive options.
  • The programs can feel a bit too similar in intensity.

Frequently Asked Questions About TENS Units 

TENS units are a great way to get pain relief and relax your tired and aching muscles.

However, they can be a bit confusing and scary at first, which means some people are a bit wary about using them.

So, I'm going to use this final section to answer some of the most common questions people have about TENS units.

How do I use a TENS unit?

TENS units designed for personal use are small, lightweight, battery-operated devices that deliver electrical impulses via electrode pads that you attach to your skin.

So, to use them you place the electrode pads on to your area of pain, connect them to the TENS unit via a wire or by Bluetooth, then choose the TENS or EMS program you want to follow.

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.

And you can adjust the power and intensity of these impulses so the treatment stays comfortable for you, and also choose how long you want to keep the treatment going for with a timer.

Then all you need to do is sit back, relax, and let your device work it's magic.

How does a TENS unit give you relief from back pain?

A TENS unit brings you relief from pain by electrically stimulating the nerves around your pain area, which blocks pain signals from reaching your brain.

So, the idea is to distract your brain away from the pain you are experiencing, as this will lessen the power and influence of this pain.

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

Also, the stimulation from the electrical impulses also work to relax your back muscles and encourage the release of endorphins into your system.

Which is great, because endorphins are the body's natural painkiller and will also work to keep your pain levels down.

What are the benefits of using a TENS unit?

While the pain relief that comes from using a TENS unit is only temporary, many people find that using one regularly is very helpful in managing their chronic pain.

So, here are some of the main benefits that a TENS unit can bring:

  • They distract you and block pain signals from reaching your brain, giving you temporary relief from your pain.
  • They are good for relaxing your sore, tight, and aching muscles.
  • You can condition your muscles to make pain less likely in the future.
  • You can use them on the move, so they're a great option to stay active without the pain.
  • Getting into the habit of using a TENS unit to manage your daily pain can reduce the need for pain medication.
  • The electrical impulses produce endorphins which are the bodies natural painkillers and also improve your mood.

What is EMS therapy and does it help?

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

EMS is different to TENS, as it stimulates the muscles rather than the nerves, making them contract which increases blood flow in the area.

Which is great, as this allows the body to deliver the oxygen and nutrients to your aching back muscles that they need to be able to heal and repair.

And stimulating your muscles also conditions and strengthens them, meaning the pain is less likely to return in future.

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

Is it dangerous to use a TENS unit?

Zapping yourself with electrical impulses may not be the most appealing thought for some people and also sounds pretty dangerous.

However, using a TENS unit is thought to be a safe method of pain management for most people, and one that carries very few side-effects.

Having said that, there are some dangers you need to be aware of before using one:

  • They may not be suitable for people with heart problems, pacemakers, or metal implants.
  • The same goes for people with epilepsy or those that are pregnant.
  • You should never place the electrode pads over numb areas, or irritated or broken skin.
  • Don't use the TENS unit on your head or neck.
  •  You should never use a TENS unit when driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Some people may be allergic to the pads or gel.
  • Don't use the TENS unit at an intensity that feels painful.
  • Don't overuse the TENS unit. Short, sharp bursts is the key!

So, you should always follow the instructions that come with your TENS unit closely.

And seek medical advice before using one if you are worried about any of the things above.

Can you overuse your TENS unit?

TENS units are designed for regular use, but not for continuous use.

So, while you can use them multiple times per day if you wish, you shouldn't use them for hours at a time.

As this can make the area sore and actually increase your pain rather than reducing it!

So, aim for short bursts of pain relief (between 5-30 minutes) when you need it to get the most out of your TENS unit and to stay safe and healthy. 

Do TENS units actually work?

I thought I'd end with a question that may still be on your lips.

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

So, do they actually work?

Well, it seems the answer comes down to personal experience, as the scientific evidence hasn't been that great up to now.

For instance, there have been some studies that have claimed that TENS therapy has been effective for lowering musculoskeletal pain.

And also that it's better for improving pain and sensitivity in muscle knots than physically stimulating the muscles.

However, the majority of these studies have been inconclusive, which leads 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 by physiotherapists for muscle recovery and the pain relief that many people have experienced from using them makes them worth a try in my book.

So, if you're curious to try one for yourself, have a go of one of the TENS units I've recommended here and see what you think.

As most have return options if you can't get on with them, so you have nothing to lose really.

And If You're Undecided, I'd Recommend This One...

Ideal For Treating Your Back Pain

This TENS unit is easy to use and has everything you need to get relief from your pain.

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Daniel

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.