Picture this familiar scene. You’re standing up from your office chair, your car seat, or your bed and suddenly it feels like thunder is hitting you right at the back. Ughhh, that annoying back pain!
If this sounds familiar to you, we are all in this together. What’s the solution then? Pain killers, perhaps? No, not really.
If you’re looking for the best TENS unit for back pain, you’re already on the right track. You’ll be better-informed of the necessary information in this post. Keep reading on!
What Is a TENS Unit?
TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit is a small device that uses a low-voltage electrical charge to mimic your nerve signals and reduce the pain signals to your brain.
Size-wise, it’s fairly small. All you need to do is place the electrode pads directly onto your troubled area. The unit will then send low electric signals through your skin to help ease the pain.
How Does a TENS Unit Work?
As a smart and savvy user, you’re always equipped with the best knowledge about how stuff works, including this TENS unit.
Fundamentally, the device works based on two theories. I think of them as contrasting addition and subtraction.
The first approach is the Gate Control Theory or subtraction. It works by stopping the pain signals from reaching your central nervous system. In a way, you can think of it like guards saying to pain, “Nope. You shall not pass.”
The second approach is Endorphin Stimulation or addition. This method works by sending signals that help the production of your body natural painkillers (aka endorphins). It’s like saying, “Yes. More of the feel-good chemicals, please.”
The science behind it is not that complicated, right. If you understand these two basic approaches well enough, you have a very solid foundation to begin using a TENS unit safely.
Does a TENS Unit Work?
When used properly, a TENS unit can be both safe and effective. There is evidence that TENS units work for some people. The degree to which it is effective, however, varies from person to person.
When you’re new to using TENS, it may provide sufficient pain relief at first. As time goes on, your body may develop some endurance; thus, you may not feel that much relief like before.
For this reason, I recommend using the TENS unit in combination with other drug-free pain management methods like massage, aromatherapy, pressure-reducing mattresses, supportive shoes, etc.
You can count on a TENS unit if you have the following types of pain:
- Post-surgery pain
- Spinal cord injury
- Diabetes nerve damage
- Menstrual or labor pain
- Facial nerve pain
It shouldn’t hurt at all when using the unit. Your attention when handling the device during the session is also important. Even at the highest-intensity current, TENS units don’t cause pain.
5 Best TENS Units for Back Pain
1. FDA cleared OTC HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit
The first TENs unit you’re seeing here is a powerful 2-in-1 device. It’s the combination of a TENS unit and an EMS device.
For those who are unfamiliar, an EMS is an Electrical Muscle Stimulation device.
It helps the regrowth and recovery of muscles. The device is used extensively to improve athletic performance.
At the top of this unit, you’ll find 4 outputs. You can use 1 or even 4 of them. Included in the package are 8 electrode pads. Using those pads is incredibly easy.
All you need to do is plug the pad wires into the A and/or B channels on the device. Then, carefully peel the thin film off the pads. Place them on your pain area (at least 3 centimeters apart). And set your desired mode.
The device runs on 3 AAA batteries. If you use it three times a week, that would be enough power for over 3 months of use.
Controlling the unit is so easy even little kids can do it. There are 9 auto modes indicated by the words printed on the buttons. For example, neck, back, shoulder, ankle, etc.
When you select one of these, you don’t have to manually set anything. If you want manual control, however, there are 6 massage settings you can set. They are cupping, scraping, random, etc.
The packaging of the unit is superb and frustration-free. The pads themselves are very sticky. They are also easy to clean and to reuse.
What I think could be improved is the on-time of the lights. In under-lit areas such as a bedroom at night, it can be difficult to make out which button is for which kind of pulse (if you don’t already memorize the placements).
Compared to other expensive models, this one has a sweet price point and delivers exactly what is asked of it. You can use this in your physical therapy session. You would love this choice right here!
- Easy to use
- Easy to clean
- Long lasting
- Many types of pulses
- Affordable price
- Lights could be on longer
2. KEDSUM Rechargeable 16 Modes Tens Unit Muscle Stimulator
Just like the unit we saw above, this Kedsum TENS unit also has the EMS function.
The first highlight of this machine is its rechargeable battery. It comes with an AC adapter that works with current from 110 – 240 V. You’ll receive a USB wire as well.
The rechargeable battery makes it way more convenient to use the device. You know exactly what the battery level is. Consequently, you can prepare well for your next session.
To me, this machine has a well-designed interface. A large LCD display screen is so helpful in showing which mode is in use, how long it will be, and the strength it is at.
Speaking of massage modes, you can use 6 major ones. Those are the ones that act like acupuncture, cupping, knocking, Shiatsu, etc.
You can choose the various vibration waves within those modes. Plus, you can set your own time for the session. These are very neat features.
Even more, the pads are durable. You can use and re-use them for 20 – 30 times before you get some replacements. Replacement pairs are not very expensive. You can order them online, too.
You will get wonderful pain reduction, especially in your lower back or sciatica region with this one. After a full 20-minute session, your back will feel much better.
The aspect I didn’t like was the manual. It was quite confusing and didn’t really help. Other than this tiny point, I give this device 5 stars. It is worth it, and it works!
- Reduces pain
- 6 major massage modes
- Manual settings available
- Easy to control
- Rechargeable battery
- Manual is not helpful
3. Touch Screen Tens Unit with Carry Case
For a moment, forget about all the buttons. Because this TENS unit features a large LCD touchscreen display. You’ll also get a small touch pen to use with it.
The design looks a lot like an iPhone. Coupled with the rechargeable battery, this is by far the most modern TENS device I’ve seen.
On the screen, you’ll see the battery level, the different massage modes, and the time. In fact, there are 24 programmed modes for pain relief and muscle recovery.
Along with it are 10 adhesive pads and a carrying case. You can take the device with you when you travel out of town easily. It doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Due to the availability of two channels, you can run this device as 2 independent units separately. For instance, the A channel can be used to work on your back. The B channel can be used for your shoulder.
Managing charging cable is hassle-free. You have this blue Velcro tape which you can neatly wrap around the cable. After using the pads, you can stick them onto the dedicated spots in the case to extend their longevity.
Using the device is a surprisingly intuitive process. It’s very much like using your phone.
When placing the pads onto your skin, you don’t need to use electrode gel. They are self-adhesive.
The lead wire ports are 2.35 mm. So, no you can’t possibly plug the wire into a 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s no point in doing so.
To wrap up, this device provides wonderful pain relief with simple-to-use settings. It can calm your sciatica and ease your pain. Although the cables appear to be slightly flimsy, I think the strengths make up for this tiny point.
I would recommend buying this one!
- 24 pre-programmed settings
- The touchscreen LCD display with Touch Pen
- Included case
- Hassle-free cable management
- Works well
- High-quality adhesive pads
- Flimsy cables
4. AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator Machine
Let us now go back in time just a bit and check out this amazing deal! Compared to the touchscreen model we saw, the only thing lacking here is, well, the touchscreen.
Everything else, I think, is very much up to par with the industry standards. I like that it has a rechargeable battery that can run up to 10 hours straight.
The feature that I also want to highlight is the big pads you get. With other models, you’ll usually get 4-8 pads of the same size. With this one, you have more choices.
What’s there for you are 4 small pads and 4 large-size pads. I personally think this variety is awesome. Just an idea: You can use the small pads on your neck and the large pads on your back area.
Indeed, there are 2 separate A and B channels on the machine. Like I said a few seconds ago, you can place some pads on your neck and hook them up on the channel A.
The other ones can be connected to channel B, which you set at a higher intensity. Super convenient!
I have no issues with the backlit LCD screen. It is bright enough to see in not well-lit environments.
You should be aware, however, that it is not recommended to use the device while it is charging. Just to be safe, use it only when it’s done getting power.
Also, you don’t need to apply electrode gel, although you can. The pads themselves are sticky enough.
Coupled with the 20 programmed modes, you will get a full body massage that’s worth hundreds of dollars at any massage centers.
It may be a lifesaver or life-changing for you, who knows. Once you give it a try, you will feel the difference.
- 20 different massage modes
- Well-lit LCD screen
- 2 sets of small and large pads
- 10 hours of runtime
- Easy to control
- Works amazing for lower back pain
- Some find the screen not turning on
5. MEDVIVE Rechargeable Tens Unit Muscle Stimulator
Don’t leave just yet because here is the final great one for your consideration.
This model is super compact and portable. What’s cool is that it has pads in 3 different sizes.
To put it in concrete numbers, you’ll get 2 small, 4 medium, and 2 large pads. Love that!
They also use a rechargeable battery that can run up to 10 hours on this device. Pretty standard stuff, right?
The massage options are also plentiful. There are low-intensity massages such as Shiatsu and acupuncture.
You are backed by a 12-month warranty if you’re not satisfied with any features.
The unit is very simple to use. You can set it on for 20 minutes and enjoy. Trust me, there’s nothing complicated about it at all.
Some customers complain about the cords not working. It’s good that the team quickly responded and offered a solution.
This is a worth-it product that is worth your attention!
- 3 different sizes of pads
- Dual channel
- Easy to use
- Easy to clean
- Great for back pain
- Cords not working for some
By now, I guess you’ve had a much better understanding of TENS units, how they work, and what the best TENS units are.
As a final note, I would advise you to consult your physical therapist or doctor first before getting yourself one (although the unit is OTC cleared).
Remember: This is not a silver bullet. It’s best to combine it with other drug-free methods to fully see the results. Take care & stay healthy!