Difference Between TENS and EMS

If you are one of the millions who experience the ill effects of endless muscle or nerve pain, you  may have heard about an EMS or TENS unit that could give you non-addictive, medicate relief.  You probably have some questions about what the difference is between these two devices. There are several differences between the two, so if you are considering TENS vs EMS, it is crucial to understand what each is designed to do and when you should use over the other.

Are TENS and EMS Units the Same Thing?

The simple answer is no, TENS and EMS are not the same thing. They are two different machines used for different applications. TENS units are used to relieve pain while EMS are used for muscle growth and athletic training. If you suffer from chronic nerve or muscle pain, you may have heard that a TENS or EMS unit can provide you with non-addictive, drug-free relief. While both units are powerful therapeutic solutions, only the TENS unit is used strictly for pain therapy. EMS machines are used for the rehabilitation of muscles after injury, as well as athletic training, but are not solely for pain relief. In general, EMS units are used for therapeutic muscle stimulation and growth, and TENS units are used to relieve pain symptoms. 

It is important to note that these units don’t function the same way. TENS uses electrical currents to confuse pain signals which essentially diverts pain from being “felt”. EMS sends an electrical signal to your muscles that causes a contraction for the purpose of exercising and building muscles; this is the same electric signal your brain would send to your muscles to make them contract. Knowing what makes these two therapy devices unique will help you decide if you should choose a TENS unit or an EMS unit. Alternatively, you may want a TENS EMS combination machine which can not only relieve pain but build muscles therapeutically to prevent pain in the future.

What is EMS (Electric Muscle Stimulation)

EMS or Electric Muscle Stimulation is the process of causing muscle contractions by using an external electrical charge or pulse that is created by an EMS machine or device. How does exactly does EMS work? Electrodes are placed on the skin over the muscle that you are going to exercise. An electrical charge is sent into the muscle charging the muscle’s fibers which then causes the muscle contraction. This is the same action muscles go through during exercise and motion. So, it is basically exercising your muscles as if you were sending the signal for the muscle to contract yourself. This is different from TENS, as they do not make the muscles contract.

What an EMS Unit is Used For

EMS stands for electronic muscle stimulation. These units are made to offer relief by stimulating the muscles themselves. Electric Muscle Stimulation is used in therapy to treat swelling and inflammation which puts a strain on both the muscles themselves and their supporting joints. By reducing inflammation, these units can help restore function and prevent joints from becoming dislocated by strained muscles. Physical therapists and doctors often recommend EMS units to their patients for muscular pain relief. They can reduce muscle spasms and edema, which are leading causes of muscle pain and loss of function. Also, they are often used in clinical and home settings to encourage greater healing by stimulating blood flow and improving range of motion. When used for blood flow stimulation, they are often able to ease muscle tension and to reduce stiffness in joints and muscles that can cause restrictions in motion. EMS units are particularly good at increasing blood circulation in the back and neck because these areas tend to be a source of more tension than the rest of the body. You could use an EMS unit if:

  • You suffer from muscle spasms
  • Have poor blood circulation
  • Have suffered from muscle atrophy
  • Your muscles need to be stimulated and re-educated
  • Your muscles are weak and lack tone
  • You have lost range of motion due to an injury or illness
  • You have recently had a surgery and doctors want to prevent DVT in your lower legs

What a TENS Unit Does

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. These units are designed to give pain relief by sending comforting, non-painful impulses through the skin to the nerves underneath. This electronic stimulation can reduce or eliminate the pain due to a nerve disorder or chronic health condition.

What is Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation or TENS?

Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation or TENS is a pain therapy using electrical impulses to relive pain naturally, without the use of drugs or narcotics. The electrical pulses stimulate nerve endings and the skin to create endorphins and confuse pain signals; TENS units deploy the stimulating pulses to distract your brain and help prevent pain signals from reaching your brain. These units can also stimulate your body to create its own natural painkillers known as endorphins, and these natural feel-good chemicals are key to pain relief and mood enhancement for those who suffer from painful chronic conditions. Manu TENS units offer a number of modes and programs so the therapy can be directed to an individual’s needs. It is easy to change the modes on these units for maximum pain relief. However, it is important to keep in mind that the level of pain relief will vary according to the individual and their condition. You might use a TENS unit if:

  • You have acute or chronic pain,
  • Have pain after a surgery
  • Suffer from post-operative incision pain
  • Have regular migraines or tension headaches
  • You have suffered from sports or activity injuries that cause chronic pain
  • You suffer from arthritis
  • You have tendonitis or bursitis
  • You have cancer pain
  • You suffer from pain from wound healing

Which Unit Should You Choose?

Deciding between a TENS and EMS unit can be a challenge. If you are not sure if your pain is caused mainly by muscle or nerve problems, talk with your doctor or physical therapist. They can direct you towards the best unit to help control pain. If you currently take medications for nerve pain, a TENS unit may be a better choice than an EMS unit. If you are currently taking medication to target muscle pain, stiffness, or spasms, then an EMS unit is probably a better choice than a TENS unit. These types of units are also a good choice if a masseuse, physical therapist, or chiropractor has noted that your pain may be caused by muscle tension. In some cases, if you suffer from chronic pain that involves both the nerves and the muscles you can find relief from combination units that offer both TENS and EMS capabilities. These lightweight combo units are designed to offer the best in therapeutic solutions for those who suffer from ongoing pain or chronic health conditions. 


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