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Looking for the best TENS unit to manage pain? Here are five that made our list based on intensity levels, smart design, and a range of features including massage modes and built-in timers.
- Best splurge: HiDow XPD TENS Unit | Skip to review
- Best budget: Tenker EMS TENS Unit | Skip to review
- Best for lower back pain: Hollywog WiTouch Pro Bluetooth TENS Unit | Skip to review
- Best for on the go: Omron Pocket Pain Pro TENS Unit | Skip to review
- Best for menstrual cramps: Ovira Period Cramp Relief Device | Skip to review
If you live with chronic pain or are healing from an injury, you may have wondered whether a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (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 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.
What is a TENS unit?
A TENS unit is a device with electrodes meant to attach to your body. The electrodes are adhesive so they can stick on your skin temporarily.
When you turn on the device, it emits electrical stimulation. Most TENS units have multiple intensity settings so you can adjust them to your preference.
For this review, our writer relied on her personal experience with TENS units and also looked extensively at online customer feedback. In addition, we considered the following product components and criteria:
- intensity levels
- available massage modes
- charging methods
- timer functionality
- electric pad design
- size and portability
The units featured below have strong reviews and come from trusted brands. We looked at information from 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.
- $ = under $50
- $$ = $50–$100
- $$$ = over $100
If you already know TENS units work for you — or if budget is not a concern — 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 3/8 x 2 inches) means it can fit 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. It stimulates muscle contractions, which can help heal and prevent muscular injuries. Each HiDow unit comes with a 2-year warranty, with an optional lifetime warranty available at an extra cost.
- lots of intensity levels
- small size
- good warranty
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 cannot be used discreetly, as the wires will likely show.
- relatively inexpensive
- built-in timer
- small size
- some customers complain about the pad adhesive
Best for lower back pain
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.
Keep in mind that 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.
- works well for back pain
- fewer intensity levels than other units
- difficult to change batteries
Best for on the go
This unit has three preset programs for different body pains (arm/shoulder, lower back, leg/foot) and two massage-like modes (knead and steady), each with 10 levels of intensity so you can customize them to your comfort level.
The unit includes sticky electric pads that last up to 150 uses and can be stored in the included plastic case.
The pads have to be changed out once they start to lose their adhesiveness.
- mid-range price
- small size
- includes case
- some reviewers say they wish the device was more powerful
- replacement pads are sometimes out of stock
Best for menstrual cramps
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.
- includes storage bag
- returns allowed within 100 days
- gel pad refills are $35 for a 3-month supply
TENS treatment and similar therapies have become popular because they’re an affordable, low risk pain management strategy.
In addition, a
There are two main theories about how TENS therapy works to relieve pain:
- The nerves are stimulated by the electrical current, which blocks or cancels out the transmission of pain signals from your brain.
- The electrical stimulation releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals.
However, other research suggests that the placebo effect is also an important variable. The placebo effect is when a person’s belief in how well a treatment will work directly influences its effects on that person.
- 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” 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.
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 20-40 minutes at a time, up to 5 times a day depending on how much pain you’re experiencing.
How long is it OK to use it at a time?
Many devices have a preset timer, typically 20–30 minutes. Most have a 60-minute, or 1-hour, maximum. Some people use TENS units for hours each day, with the only side effect being possible skin irritation from the pads.
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 people managing joint pain or 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.