TENS vs EMS: Which Should I Choose?

Geoffrey Lions
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What is the difference between TENS and EMS?

The two can be difficult to tell apart, but they are actually quite different from each other. Both TENS and EMS use electrical pulses to relieve pain, but in different ways. Also, they feel completely different on your body.

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, which is a way of saying electrical stimulation through the skin. EMS stands for Electric Muscle Stimulation and is just a variation of TENS that uses electrical pulses to stimulate muscles instead of treating pain.

I feel that TENS should be seen as a therapy and not a treatment, which is why I only use it along with another therapy. Instead of using it in an acute situation, it's more helpful for chronic pain. For example, if you have arthritis in your knees, then you can use TENS therapy to help treat your lower back pain caused by your knees.

EMS is very similar to TENS and actually works in a very similar way. I generally consider EMS to be safer than TENS because it uses fewer electrical pulses and a lower intensity. The tradeoff is that it only treats a small area of your body, unlike TENS which can treat your whole body multiple times per day.

What is a TENS unit used for?

Pronounced TENS as opposed to the more common term “TENSE”, when you are purchasing a TENS machine, you’re buying a non-invasive product that is used for pain relief.

The TENS unit sends small electrical impulses to the nerves in your body. The impulses are quite small so they don’t produce the intense jolts that conventional electric currents do. However, the resulting pain relief is just as effective.

Because TENS machines are safer to use, they can be used on much more sensitive areas of the body than EMS units can be used, including the face, the neck, the chest and shoulder, the abdomen, and on one point of the spine.

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TENS units have been in use for over 35 years now, and their effectiveness has been proven through time. Tens machines have been used by hospitals, physical therapists, and chiropractors, and now tens devices are available as consumer medical devices.

The TENS device is easy to use when you follow the instructions that come with your device and learn a few things about how they work and what it means when the settings are adjusted.

What is an EMS unit used for?

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) devices can be used to increase muscle strength and muscle tone through the use of electrical stimulation from an alternating-current electrical source in order to contract the muscles.

The EMS units promote training using deep electrical muscle stimulation, without requiring pain which can be found in other electrostimulation methods such as TENS units.

EMS can also be used for rehabilitation following an injury. The EMS unit is often prescribed to function as an "exercise on demand" device to improve function.

These devices are used to stimulate muscles and nerves for rehabilitation and athletic training. EMS units are mainly used to treat acute and chronic pain and following injuries.

The types of electrical stimulation are categorized as "pain-free" electrotherapy devices. The muscle contractions produced by EMS muscles are indistinguishable in pain or discomfort due to the muscle being subjected to high levels of repetitive electrical pulses.

The muscle contractions are caused by the electrical current passing through the muscle, causing the muscle to contract. The electrical pulses emitted from the electrotherapy device cause the muscle to contract by causing the motor nerve fibres to contract.

The contraction of the muscle causes the muscle to become stronger and function more effectively. The electrical pulses at a relatively low frequency are able to penetrate bone tissue.

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TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a non-invasive and drug-free way to manage back pain. It involves the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation of the body’s peripheral nerves. With TENS, mild electric pulses targeted at the affected muscle mass can be felt by the patient as a tingle or slight muscle tightening.

EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) directly stimulates the nerve and muscle fibers to help control pain and spasms. It uses an electrical current to contract the muscles. It is a type of neuromuscular stimulation that is often used for athletic performance and short-term pain relief. EMS is also sometimes referred to as EMS Muscle Stimulation, Electrical Muscle Stimulation, Electrical Muscle Contractions (EMC), or Muscular Electrical Stimulation.

Both EMS and TENS usually use leads or belts that connect to a device that sends the electric pulses to targeted muscles. EMS directly stimulates the muscle-nerve pathway and causes your muscles to contract at your command. EMS devices help restore the natural timing of muscle activation during movement.

Should I buy a TENS and EMS combination unit?

A TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) unit is an electronic device that is used to relieve the pain felt by natural body functions, such as childbirth, back pain, injuries, and chronic soreness. An EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) device is used to work out different muscles and tones them up.

Both devices are connected to the surface of the skin by electrodes. Current passes from these electrodes to stimulate and relax muscles. EMS units also stimulate the muscles internally to improve their resistance and therefore, tone them up.

A TENS and EMS combination is an excellent product to improve both muscle and blood circulation. For almost a century, EMS and TENS together have been providing treatment for patients.

This combination unit can be applied to a specific area of the body to treat illnesses, pain, and injuries. Here are some of the most common ailments that can be treated by using a TENS and EMS combination:

Muscular Spasms

Muscular Spasms are responsible for the muscle pain that occurs after a workout. Spasms are also one of the hindrances to good blood circulation as blood flow is restricted to the particular area the muscle is spasming.

Where can I buy a TENS or EMS unit?

In the United States, you can buy a TENS machine at most pharmacies, drug stores, and shopping centers. Certain medical suppliers and large retailers may have a broader range of products.

In the United Kingdom, the same can be said for pharmacies, but it’s more common to find these kinds of products at a medical supply store or in a department store like John Lewis.

When choosing a TENS or EMS system to buy, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you need a basic, easy-to-use unit and simply want to see what this type of electrotherapy can do for you, then you may want to consider one of the cheaper models.

However, the more you choose to spend on your TENS unit, the more you’ll get out of it, in terms of features and ease of use.

If you’re someone who likes to use their TENS or EMS machine daily or often, then it would be worth it to choose a more advanced unit from a well-known brand.

To purchase a TENS or EMS machine in Australia or New Zealand, it’s best to visit a medical supplier store; medical suppliers like Bionare or La Trobe have a selection of electrotherapy machines.

Want to find out more about TENS and EMS?

Which type of muscle stimulator is better? Which one is better at pain reduction?

You may be wondering what the difference is between TENS and EMS. Most people are familiar with TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), a widely used form of electrical muscle stimulation. Some use TENS before exercise while others use it to treat chronic pain. Another form of electrical muscle stimulation is called EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation).

Read on to learn how these two work, how they're similar and how they're different, and ultimately which option is right for you.