[Updated for 2023]
What is a Tens Unit?
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. While that might sound a bit scary, the electronic pulses are very mild and therapeutic. A TENS device administers electric current through conductive gel and electrodes attached to the skin to stimulate nerves. Stimulating nerves in your body reduces pain.
Do Tens Unit Really Work?
TENS therapy has consistently proven effective for pain relief in clinical studies, and users swear by it. The electrical impulses, delivered through adhesive pads on a user's skin, flood the nervous system, which reduces its ability to transmit pain signals to the brain.
The pulses also cause the body to produce endorphins, which are the body's natural pain relievers. Without pain, muscles relax, and healing takes place.
Do Tens Units Work for Back Pain?
If you have been to a physical therapist for back pain, you have probably experienced the pain relief you get from a TENS treatment. Using TENS for sciatica and other back problems is common and effective.
When your back pain is reduced by nerve stimulation, you get more than short-term relief. Relieving pain in your back helps you relax cramping muscles, and improve your posture.
Less pain also means you can move more freely, start mild exercise, and improve your overall fitness. Better fitness means better core muscles and posture and less back pain.
Using a Tens unit to treat sciatica is often recommended by health professionals. How to use a Tens unit for sciatica is fairly simple. Connect the electrode wires to the machine and the electrode pads to the skin on your lower back near the area of pain. On units that give you “back” as one of the modes, choose that. Adjust the intensity level or massage option until you feel pain relief. Move the electrode pads around on your back to find the best relief from your pain.
Because sciatica pain can shoot down your legs as well as in the lower back, place electrodes on the backs of the legs. You can move the pads around and continue to adjust the frequency until you get relief from the radiating pains in your legs.
Must-Have Features for the Best Tens Unit
The best tens units will have a timer that you can set. It will also have a wide choice of massage settings and intensity levels. It's best if the set is portable enough to let you move around as you receive treatment.
Look for a dual-channel model so you can treat your back with one massage or intensity level and your legs with another. Since you might like to take it to the office or with you when you travel, a compact unit in a carrying bag or case is best.
7 Best Tens Unit for Sciatica & Back Pain Relief [Updated for 2023]
1.) iReliev Wireless TENS + EMS Therapeutic Wearable System with a rechargeable battery that lasts between five and ten hours allows you to move freely while getting therapy.
• Combines nerve stimulation for pain relief with EMS or neuromuscular electrical stimulation for strength training and muscle warm-up.
• Completely wireless so you can move around the room or yard with it on
• Rechargeable lithium-ion battery lasts 5-10 hours
• 14 different programs to choose from, 7 for pain relief, 1 for arthritis treatment, and 6 for muscle conditioning
• USB and AC adapter
If you travel or spend too much time at the office to use a therapy unit as much as you should, this TENS/EMS unit is great. Use the nerve stimulation programs while working in the office and the EMS at the gym to warm up your muscles before you work out.
The longer you sit at your desk, the worse sciatica can get, and using a Tens unit is great for treating sciatica. When you travel, take it with you. Everything fits in a little carrying case, and you can even use it on a plane to relieve back and leg pain or avoid leg cramps by using the EMS programs.
What’s great about the iReliev Wireless Tens and EMS is that you can program each of the pads to do something different. It comes with two electrode pads, and you can order two more because the control unit has four channels.
If you want to put two pads on your lower back and use one of the seven pain relief modes and, at the same time, use two more pads to treat your legs or do some strength training on your arms, you can do that—a great TENS unit for sciatica treatment and muscle training.
2.) Belifu Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit 24 Modes Muscle Stimulator for Pain Relief Therapy with sticky electrode pads that you can attach to 10 different places on your back.
This pocket-sized programable, portable unit provides great relief from back pain. Customize your therapy using different intensities for your lower back than your legs or upper back, so it feels just right.
• Pocket size but has 24 different therapy modes and ten pads to attach to your body.
• Each of the two channels can be programmed differently.
• Rechargeable lithium-ion battery lasts up to 20 hours.
• Comes in a carrying bag for easy travel.
• Comes with a built-in, programable timer.
• Both TENS for nerve stimulation and pain relief and EMS for muscle development.
The Belifu Dual Channel TENS/ EMS unit packs a lot into an economical package. You get both kinds of therapy in a single unit and a choice of 24 programs or intensities so you can get a very gentle tingle or a more intense muscle working level.
The most loved feature is the ability to program two different things on the two channels and work on two pain centers simultaneously. You can use this Tens unit to treat sciatica by targeting your back and legs with pain-relieving pulses.
The Belifu qualifies for the top TENS units because the screen is pretty easy to figure out. You can touch the appropriate icon to get the therapy you want. Once you know which program works for you, it will be easy to get that same program again the next day.
[Bonus Pick] iReliev TENS + EMS Pain Relief & Recovery System - is relief that can fit in your pocket! Its 2 in 1 system w/ good intensity and 14 pre-set programs that includes the muscle strengthening EMS Mode.
Taking pain relief to another level, iReliev has added another mode to make recovery even better. The newly added Muscle Strengthening EMS Mode helps to activate the muscles to boost strength & endurance, and speed up recovery.
• Has 14 programs to help with: Acute & Chronic Pain, Arthritis, Muscle Recovery, Active Recovery, Warm Up, and Endurance.
• Fits in your pocket for easy portability
.• TENS + EMS Device w/ Belt Clip Holster
• (4) 2″ x 2″ Small Electrode Pads
• (2) 3.5″ x 5″ Large Electrode Pads
• Includes a Tote Bag for easy carry & convenience
As one customer states "Great unit that helps with my back and neck pain which causes migraines."
"Very easy to use and more powerful than some other portable tens systems. Really helped more with my back pain in between corrupted Chiropractic visits. And may have helped more avoid a few!"
3.) Xpoint Dual Channel Luxury TENS EMS Unit Muscle Stimulator – has larger electrode pads than most of the best TENS units.
There are12 pads, and each is 3" x 1.77" so you cover bigger areas of your back or shoulders and get maximum relief with each treatment.
• Great gift to give. Elegant design with gold trim and a leather draw-string carry case.
• 12 large, 3” x 1.77”, electrode pads.
.• Rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
• Easy to use touch screen with a time controller.
• 24 different massage types, each with 20 levels of intensity.
• Both TENS for nerve stimulation and pain relief and EMS for muscle development.
Between the larger pads and there being 12 of them, you can cover your lower back and your legs to treat sciatica with the Xpoint Dual Channel Luxury TENS EMS Unit Muscle Stimulator. The screen is easy to use, and the variety of massage types and levels makes it easy to get the exact therapy you want. It also makes a great gift because of its design and packaging.
4.) TENS 7000 2nd Edition Digital TENS Unit – has superior power for prescription-strength pain relief. Recommended by health professionals like physical therapists and chiropractors.
The TENS 7000 2nd Edition, Digital TENS Unit, is highly recommended by physical therapists, especially for treating sciatica, and comes closest to machines used in therapy offices. The superior power provides the most nerve stimulation for prescription-strength pain relief.
The EMS side might give your muscles more stimulation than they can handle, so increase incrementally.
5.) The superior quality pads that come with the AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator Machine means you can use the pads for up to 45 sessions.
• Simple to use screen showing picture icons of the massage style choices.
• 2 Large sizes of pad, 2“x 2” and 2” x 4” that can be used up to 45 times.
.• Rechargeable lithium-ion battery and USB charger.
• 20 preset massage modes on two channels.
• Best available adhesive on the pads and top industry level connector wires and pins.
With the AUVON Dual Channel TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator Machine, you get a choice of pad sizes, which is nice, and the pads last so much longer than other best TENs units that you won't have to buy a supply for a while. Treating muscle tightness or sciatica with a TENs unit means daily use, so having the pads last so much longer is great. You can use the larger ones on your lower back's pain centers and the small ones on your legs.
6.) Tens Unit Machine Pulse Massager 24 Massage Modes Rechargeable – is unique because the mode icons include the body parts you want to treat, like neck, back, elbow, and there’s a treatment point chart to help guide you to the exact treatment points.
• Easy to understand mode screen includes both massage modes and individual body parts.
• 10 pads including two large, six medium, and two small.
.• Rechargeable lithium-polymer battery that lasts up to 20 hrs.
• Treatment chart to guide your therapy.
• Compact design with protective cover for the screen.
• USB and wall charger.
You don’t have to understand massage styles to get started with the Tens Unit Machine Pulse Massager 24. Some of the choices on the mode screen just read elbow, shoulder, neck, back so you can start with matching the mode to the part of your body you need to treat. The treatment chart is helpful. Since the battery lasts up to 20 hrs, you don’t have to charge it very often.
7.) HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit EMS Muscle Stimulator is simple to use by picking from the nine body parts to target and then choosing six massage modes.
• 9 body part settings combined with six massage mode settings
• Dual channels with four outputs to 8 electrode pads.
.• Includes a useful treatment chart.
• 3 replaceable AAA batteries.
• Belt clip allows free movement.
With the HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit EMS Muscle Stimulator, first, you pick from: shoulder, back, elbow, hip, knee, neck, foot/hand, or ankle on the large, backlit program screen.
When using this Tens unit to treat sciatica, you can use the back setting for your back and try the knee setting for your legs. Then choose a massage style from Acupuncture, Tapping, Cupping, Kneading, Scraping or Random. The random choice runs through all the other settings.
It's easy to get started, and you can try different combinations until you find what helps the most.
Frequently Asked Questions
How To Use a Tens Unit for Back Pain?
How Often Should You Use a Tens Unit?
Recommendations vary somewhat, but most recommend 10-20-minute TENS sessions with 4 or 5 hours between sessions. Using TENS for longer than 20 minutes in the same spot can cause damage. EMS can be used for longer periods.
Can a Tens Unit be Harmful or Safe to Use?
TENS units are safe for most people but if you have any acute or infectious disease, cancer, high blood pressure, or heart disease, talk to your doctor. Also, don't use a TENS unit if you have a high fever, recently had surgery, or if you lack skin sensation for any reason.
Can You Overuse a Tens Unit?
Make sure to let your muscles rest for at least 4 or 5 hours between sessions and never turn the level up high enough to be painful. You should feel the pulses, but they should never cause discomfort. Don’t use a unit on the same spot for longer than 20 minutes because it can cause damage.
Can You Use a Tens Unit While Pregnant?
A TENS unit can help reduce labor pain, but doctors do not recommend that women use it during pregnancy, especially in their abdominal or pelvic area.