If you buy something from the links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Why trust us?

How are TENS and EMS Units Different?


If you’re shopping around for the best TENS unit, you might have noticed EMS devices also popping up in the results.

TENS and EMS units are both e-stim devices that deliver low voltage electrical impulses to stimulate nerves. However their uses are quite different.

Below you’ll discover the differences between TENS and EMS, so you can find the stimulation device that’s right for you.

What is a TENS unit?

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. The device emits a stimulating pulse that awakens the nerves, and blocks pain signals from being sent to the brain.

If you’re looking for a good all-round TENS machine, then the TechCare Plus 24 is one to consider. After reviewing the tool in detail, we found it offers great features and power, at a very competitive price.

Did you know?

A TENS unit is sometimes referred to as a TNS (transcutaneous nerve stimulation) machine or EPM (electric pulse massager).

What is a TENS unit used for?

TENS devices are primarily used for pain relief.

Effective for both acute and chronic pain, TENS unit benefits include:

  • Back Pain
  • Migraines
  • Labor
  • Arthritis
  • Depression

What is an EMS unit?

EMS stands for electrical muscle stimulation. The device sends signals to your muscles to make them contract. It essentialy mimics the action potential that comes from your central nervous system.

PowerDot 2.0 Smart Muscle Stimulator is an EMS machine worth considering. Controlled through your smartphone, it’s the secret weapon of many professional athletes.

Did you know?

Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is also known by the names: neuromuscular electrical Stimulation (NMES), electromyostimulation, e-stim, and stim.

What is an EMS unit used for?

EMS devices are effective for muscle building, as strength is developed through the process of the muscles contracting then relaxing.

Here are a number of benefits of EMS, that show the ways this repetitive motion can help the body:

  • Muscle Strengthening
  • Muscle Rehabilitation
  • Relief from Muscle Cramps
  • Improving Athletic Performance
  • Accelerated Recovery from Injury
  • Retraining Muscles

Are TENS and EMS units effective?

There is research to show that both TENS and EMS are effective for the different functions they provide.

For example, doctors recommend TENS units for the treatment of both acute and chronic pain.

The Arthritis Foundation, an online community for sufferers of the condition, also endorses the therapy:

TENS helps acute and chronic pain. TENS has been shown to relieve osteoarthritis (OA) pain and reduce the need for pain medications.

Are both therapies safe to use?

Both TENS and EMS machines are considered safe to use, if operated correctly.

However you should always speak to your doctor or another medical professional before starting to use one.

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, report that most people who use TENS do so without experiencing any side effects.[1] In a very rare number of cases, burns and irritations of the skin have been reported.

There are also certain groups for who TENS can be harmful, such as those with epilepsy or women in the early stages of pregnancy.

In terms of EMS, the frequencies used are higher. Professor Dr. Stefan Knecht, Chief Physician at St. Mauritius Therapy Clinic in Germany promotes correct usage:

If used incorrectly, EMS can cause muscle damage. When this occurs, small muscle particles are released into the blood stream and can damage the kidneys.

Do TENS and EMS have FDA approval?

TENS and EMS units are regulated by the FDA. This means that manufacturers must comply with certain requirements to be able to sell their devices.

Tools that have not obtained FDA approval are illegal. This is to protect you from using an unregulated device that could cause injury to you or others in your household.[2]

Should I choose a TENS or an EMS unit?

Before choosing which one is right for you, you should first ask yourself, what are you hoping to gain?

For example if you’re suffering with discomfort in your lower back, then a TENS device would be best. That’s because it would interrupt those pain signals being sent from your back to your brain.

If you need to build muscle, to improve your athletic performance, then an EMS unit would be better. The muscle contractions that happen when you use the unit can help to build strength and tone.

Some conditions would benefit from both TENS and EMS, for example if you were recovering from a muscle injury. EMS could help to speed up your rehabilitation, while TENS therapy might be useful for helping you cope with the associated pain.

Take a look at the table below that lists common conditions and suggests the most effective electrical stimulation therapy:

Relieves Back Pain
Muscle Building
Improved Athletic Performance
Muscle Cramps
Injury Recovery
Muscle Spasms
Anxiety and Depression

Should I choose a unit that offers both TENS and EMS?

You might notice when trying to find the perfect TENS or EMS machine, that a number of units offer both therapies.

They do tend to cost a little more, but you get both the pain relief and muscle building advantages.

For example, if you’re someone that loves working out and wants to improve their performance, you can make the most of the EMS function.

However if you’re also someone who will then suffer for your workout the next day, through back or neck pain, the features of a TENS machine will be beneficial.

There are many units out there to choose from, with iReliev’s TENS EMS combination device being a particularly good choice.


Is an EMS unit the same as a TENS unit?

Do TENS and EMS units feel the same?

Is EMS stronger than TENS?

What would the milliamps of a TENS unit typically be, compared to an EMS unit?

Do chiropractors use TENS or EMS?

Find the Best Device

Here at The Good Body we’ve long been advocates of TENS therapy.

After testing many devices (for the purposes of research and on our own pain!) we’ve compiled a list of highly-rated TENS units on the market today.

The round-up includes a broad mix of devices, including a powerful tool for well under $50…

Laura Smith


Laura Smith

Associate Editorial Manager

Specialist health & wellbeing writer, passionate about discovering new technologies & sharing the latest research.


  1. NHS (2022). TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) [Online]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens/ [Accessed 23 May 2023].
  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration (2017). Electronic Muscle Stimulators [Online]. Available from: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/consumer-products/electronic-muscle-stimulators [Accessed 23 May 2023].