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If you live with chronic pain or are healing from an injury, you may have wondered whether a TENS unit can help you manage your symptoms. Both online and in person, people living with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and diabetes swear that these small, often battery-powered devices are life changing when it comes to reducing pain.

There are plenty of TENS units that you can choose from if you would like to try this technology. There might even be some trial-and-error involved as you find the right TENS unit for you. We put together a list of some of the top-rated TENS units by making sure each included unique or superior features.

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. You attach electrodes around or on top of a painful area of your body. The electrodes have adhesive applied to them so that they will adhere temporarily to your skin.

Then you turn on the device, which emits electrical stimulation into your body. Most TENS units have multiple intensity settings, so you can get it just right for your preference

One theory behind TENS units is that by delivering electrical stimulation, the unit may stimulate endorphins to dull your body’s pain response. Another theory is that the stimulation blocks your nerves from sending pain signals to your brain because your brain is instead receiving signals about the electrical current you’re feeling.

Whatever the case, the unit can make your muscles feel more relaxed as a tingly, warm sensation from the electrical current spreads through your muscles.

At least one randomized controlled trial from 2019 indicated that TENS units do have a measurable, long lasting effect on how your brain perceives pain signals coming from your body. The trial used brain scans to draw these conclusions.

TENS units are commonly used in chronic pain management because electrical stimulation has been found to have analgesic effects, per 2014 research. This pain can have various causes, including arthritis, connective tissue disorders, old injuries, and diabetic neuropathy.

TENS treatment and similar therapies have become popular because they’re an affordable, low risk pain management strategy.

There are two main theories about how TENS therapy works to relieve pain:

  1. The nerves are stimulated by the electrical current, which blocks or cancels out the transmission of pain signals from your brain.
  2. The electrical stimulation releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.

Researchers aren’t so certain that TENS units are as effective as some claim, though.

The placebo effect is an important variable. This is when a person’s belief in how well a treatment will work directly influences its effects on that person.

For example, a 2019 research review notes that some pain management treatments studied for fibromyalgia are as effective or not more effective than the placebo or “sham treatment” given as a comparison.

A 2014 scientific review of current TENS research found that more research needs to be done to figure out whether TENS can help improve activity levels, quality of life, and mobility. This overview found that TENS has been shown to reduce overall pain levels in chronic conditions like fibromyalgia.

The units featured below have strong reviews and come from trusted brands. We cross-referenced reports to organizations such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure each company does not have recalls, lawsuits, or abysmal ratings. Where applicable, we included feedback from user experience.

Interested in more details on our selection process? Here’s how we choose products and vet brands.

For this review, our writer relied on her personal experience with TENS units and cross-referenced online customer feedback.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $50
  • $$ = $50–$100
  • $$$ = over $100

Best splurge TENS device

HiDow XPD TENS Unit

Price: $$$

If you already know TENS units work for you—or if money is no object—this high-end HiDow TENS unit is a great option. With touchscreen controls, this unit boasts 20 adjustable intensity levels and 12 pre-programmed massage modes. The built-in lithium ion battery is easy to recharge via USB, and the small size (3 ⅜” x 2”) means it fits easily in your pocket.

HiDow claims to be the first company to combine TENS therapy and EMS therapy in the same unit. EMS stands for “electrical muscle stimulation,” and stimulates muscles (instead of just nerves like TENS), which can help heal and prevent muscular injuries. Each HiDow unit comes with a two year warranty, with an optional lifetime warranty available at an extra cost.

Considerations: This is a highly reviewed product with lots of options and a good warranty, but doesn’t seem to offer a whole lot more than basic and cheaper models. Probably not the best choice for newbies or those working with a small budget.

Best for budget

Tenker TMS TENS Unit

Price: $

Don’t let the low price fool you—this TENS unit has lots of bells and whistles. With 24 pre-programmed massage modes, 20 intensity levels, and a timer that goes from 10-60 minutes, you’ve got a ton of options. The built-in lithium ion battery lasts up to 10 hours and is rechargeable via the included USB cable.

This dual channel unit lets you use four pads at a time. You get eight electrode pads in three different shapes and sizes so that you can find the best one for your use.

The device is smaller than most modern smartphones and fits easily in your pocket.

Considerations: Though it’s small and portable, it can be a little annoying having wires running from your pocket to your skin. These wires mean this unit can not be used discreetly, as the wires will likely show.

Best TENS unit for lower back

WiTouch Pro Bluetooth TENS Unit

Price: $$

I picked this one because it’s the upgraded version of a low-back TENS unit formerly made by Aleve. I loved my Aleve TENS unit (which I lost in a move), and am happy to see a newer version now exists.

The best feature of this product is there are no wires. It sticks directly on your lower back and is controlled with a separate remote. You can stick it on your back and go about your day without anyone knowing you’re wearing a medical device. You can place it anywhere along your spine, so it works for any type of back pain.

Weighing just 4.8 ounces, this TENS unit features 15 intensity levels and 4 preset treatment programs.

Considerations: This unit takes 2 AAA batteries, which must be changed using a tiny screwdriver (included). This might be difficult for those with arthritis in their hands or other issues with fine motor skills.

Best on-the-go

Omron Pocket Pain Pro TENS Unit

Price: $

Three preset programs for different body pains (arm/shoulder, lower back, leg/foot), two massage-like modes (knead & steady), each with 10 levels of intensity so you can customize them to your comfort level. Includes sticky electric pads that last up to 150 uses, and can be stored in the included plastic case.

Considerations: Though this is highly reviewed, a few reviewers do mention that it’s not that powerful and that replacement pads are often out of stock. This is a good introductory option to TENS units, but if you’re used to more heavy-duty ones, this is not the choice for you.

Best for menstrual cramps

Ovira Noha

Price: $$$

Designed to be discreet, this specialized TENS unit is specifically for period pain. You attach the included electrode pads to your lower belly or lower back, where the electric stimulation will theoretically reduce your menstrual pain.

Another bonus is it’s USB-powered, meaning you don’t have to deal with replacing batteries. The remote is simple: Turn it on or off, turn the intensity up or down. Store your Ovira in the included storage bag and keep the pads sticky by stashing them in the included storage disc.

Considerations: This is considerably pricier than other TENS units, but they do offer “Painless Returns” for 100 days after purchase. Keep in mind that regular TENS units may work just as well as this one for cramps, but you never know until you try. The gel pad refills are a whopping $35 for a 3-month supply, which is more than many other products.

  • Pick a budget: How much money are you willing or able to spend on a TENS unit? Customize your searches to this price range so you’re not tempted to overspend.
  • Think about why you’re considering a TENS unit: What do you want from a TENS unit? Is it for all-over pain relief or for specific issues, like low back pain or menstrual cramps? Look for “dual channel” for TENS units that have four pads if you’re looking to focus on a specific point or area of your body.
  • Check the manufacturer’s website: Though places like Amazon and Target offer many TENS units for good prices, you might get better service buying directly from the company that makes the unit. This way, you can ask questions via email or chat, read more product details, and make sure your warranty is in order.
  • Ask a health professional: Ask a doctor who understands your medical history if TENS units are safe for you, particularly if you have conditions like diabetes, neuropathy, or cerebral palsy. General physicians, physical therapists, and some practitioners such as occupational therapists, chiropractors, and acupuncturists who are familiar with TENS therapy may be able to answer other questions.

Remember that you shouldn’t feel pain or discomfort when using the TENS unit. Also keep in mind that trial-and-error is OK in order to find what works for you on any given day.

Here are frequently asked questions about TENS therapy.

Where on my body can I use TENS?

Try it on your lower back on either side of your spine, your shoulders, your knees, or your hips if these areas could use a little pain relief.

How often can I use TENS therapy?

Start with 15 to 20 minutes once per day and slowly work your way up. You can space this time out over 2 to 3 sessions in a day. Do not use the TENS unit for more than 1 hour total each day.

An older publication from 2007 that sets the standard for TENS recommendations encourages TENS users to take a trial-and-error approach every time they use the unit to figure out the most comfortable way for them to use the product.

How long is it OK to use it at a time?

Many devices have a preset timer, typically 20 to 30 minutes. Most have a 60-minute, or 1-hour, maximum. If TENS is relieving your pain, it might be tempting to use it for hours every day, but this is not recommended. Less is more with this therapy. If you overdo it, you risk sensitizing your nerves and making your pain worse.

Can I use a TENS unit on my spine and neck?

No. Take care to never place the electrode pads directly on your spine. You can place the pads on either side of your spine, where the stimulation will still reach your pain, without risking spinal injury or irritation.

Where is it not OK to use a TENS unit?

Along with not putting the electrodes directly on your spine, do not use TENS on:

  • your face
  • your genitals
  • areas recently treated with radiation
  • infected tissue
  • damaged skin
  • open wounds
  • areas with reduced or nonexistent sensation

TENS devices are just one of the many modern pain relief therapies and techniques that are relatively affordable and simple to access. These devices can be part of your pain management routine, and you can administer a treatment yourself whenever you’d like, no appointment necessary.

It is important to understand that TENS units don’t magically make pain disappear, and they don’t help everyone who tries them out. Pain management specialists and clinical researchers are working to understand more about who TENS units work best for, but most of what we know at this time is anecdotal.

Even so, TENS therapy may be a low risk, relatively low cost option for many many people managing joint and muscle pain. Ask your doctor or pain management specialist about any concerns, and take your time choosing your TENS unit so you get the right one for you.


Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. Learn more about her on her website.