The Best TENS Units For Back Pain Relief

A Chiropractor's Review & Recommendations

Dr. Spathis Pic

As a chiropractic physician my recommendations are made based on a variety of factors including spinal biomechanics, research evidence and practical considerations such as ease of advice implementation and the cost of particular products. I would like to disclose that, although I may get a referral fee from some of the items advertised or reviewed, this will never impact the integrity of my reviews or recommendations. I hope you find my recommendations useful; however, if you have a specific spinal problem or condition, and have not yet done so, it is recommended that you contact your qualified health care provider for recommendations that may apply to your particular case.

Peter C. Spathis, DC

The Best TENS Units To Relieve Back Pain

My review and recommendations of specific TENS units for back pain relief is given below. However, instead of just giving you a chiropractor's recommended TENS unit list, I am providing some background information on TENS that I hope you will find helpful. Transcutaneous electical nerve stimulation, or TENS for short, is a method some people have had success with in relieving back pain. A TENS unit is a small battery powered device with electrodes that can be placed on painful parts of the body to deliver a mild electric current and help reduce pain. There is some debate as to the actual mechanism of action for these devices with current theories including endorphin release, improved circulation and nervous system effects. Whatever the mechanism, many people do find these units helpful in relieving back pain or discomfort in other symptomatic body areas. If do decide to try one of these devices, the following points are worth considering.

Doctors of chiropractic, medical doctors, physical therapists and other health care providers sometimes use and/or recommend TENS units to help patients relieve back pain. Similar to the more expensive units used in professional settings such as chiropractic and physicial therapy offices, home TENS units supply an electric current that crosses the skin and stimulates nerves and muscle tissue for the desired therapeutic effect. Unfortunately, home units do not usually have the versatility of professional devices or the supervised attention received at a health care provider's office. In addition to greater control of electrical pulse duration, frequency, intensity, treatment cycles, etc., when used in a professional setting, the provider can also ensure proper pad size and placement, device settings and other treatment parameters.

A distinction between TENS and EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) should be made at this point. While an electric current crosses the skin to achieve desired effects with both TENS and EMS, the treatment frequency (Hz) and other properties of the current differ between the two. A TENS device provides mostly a sensory effect while an EMS unit can elicit a motor response by stimulating muscles in a way that causes them to contract. The therapeutic result of this can include "massaging" the area, helping flush out metabolic waste or even rehab effects like muscle strengthening and conditioning. As EMS is more than just a pain relief modality, many therapists and chiropractors will use this in their office to achieve a specific treatment goal. It is possible the TENS you receive at your providers office is actually EMS. I have included 2 units below with EMS features; however, as treatment protocols for EMS are different than simple TENS, you should discuss your needs with your qualified health care provider to help achieve your desired treatment outcome.

Considering the relatively low cost of home TENS units, such a device may be worth trying for back pain relief. If you do want to use a TENS unit for back pain, please do so with the advice and direction of your qualified health care provider as certain contraindications do exist and some people should, in fact, not use one. For example, these units are generally not recommended for use on areas with decreased skin sensation, areas of broken skin, in pregnant patients and those with a pacemaker - you would not want the electric current to interfere with your pacemaker! There are other contraindications, including but not limited to, avoiding use on certain areas of the body such as parts of the head, front of the neck, throat, eyes, heart or electrode placements that cross the chest, and more. Additional general contraindications include not using these units while submerged in water, while sleeping, or with certain medical conditions so please discuss with your qualified health professional how appropriate such a device would be for you, as well as reading package instructions, before using a specific product.

The good news is that, if a TENS unit is appropriate for you, they are generally very easy to use. Most often you have electrodes that plug into the device and connect to adhesives pads which can be placed on painful parts of your back or other body areas. The most painful part of your back is normally in between the two pads. Depending on the type of unit you purchase, it may have only one or multiple "channels", allowing you to treat more than one area at a time. Each output, or channel, typically involves 2 pads. Different units allow varying degrees of control over individual channels and can allow a different type of treatment at various body regions - different intensities, pulse frequency, etc. So, after putting the pads in the area of pain and adjusting the intensity to a comfortable - not painful - level, the user can experience the therapeutic effect of the device (hopefully, pain relief!). Again, please read the package instructions as well as consulting your health care provider for specific directions that may be appropriate in your particular case.

Auvon TENS Unit Picture

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For an amazingly low price, the combination of features this product provides is impressive and represents great value for the money for a home TENS unit. This device comes with a rechargeable battery, both TENS and EMS settings for pain relief and muscle activation/strengthening effects as well as a dual channel design to allow therapy application to two body parts simultaneously. A potential downside of this unit is that the maximum electrical output is not as high as some more expensive TENS/EMS devices. This should not be an issue for most people but may be a factor for a small portion of the population that may require a stronger electrical output for ideal therapeutic effect. For more information, including some additional features and current price, an Amazon link to this product is provided.

Combination TENS, EMS, Massage Unit Picture
Massage Unit

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Another great TENS unit for pain relief, this one also includes EMS for muscle stimulation/strengthening as well as a "massage" setting for increased versatility. It is one of the easiest TENS/EMS units to use and provides sufficient power output to achieve optimal therapeutic effect for almost anyone. This duel channel unit allows application to 2 different body areas at the same time and also comes with a rechargeable battery. Although a little more expensive than the above product, I believe it is a better device overall and, as evidenced by its very high customer review rating, definitely worth considering.

TENS 7000 Unit Picture
TENS 7000

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If you are looking for a powerful, no frills, TENS unit for home use, this one is worth considering. It's easy to use, has 2 channels and delivers TENS in 5 different modes - Burst, Normal, Modulation, Strength Duration 1, Strength Duration 2 (the waveforms of each are in the instruction manual for those interested). The intensity level can be adjusted up to a maximum of 100mA - a strength that almost everyone will find sufficient for their therpeutic needs. However, it works using a 9 volt battery and is not rechargeable. Although I personally prefer rechargable models, over 1,000,000 of these units have been sold and the product continues to have an outstanding customer review rating. The price is also very reasonable so, if this unit sounds like what you are looking for, click on the Amazon link for more information and current price.