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TENS vs EMS: What’s The Difference?

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

TENS and EMS deliver low voltage electrical impulses to stimulate nerves. However their uses are quite different.

Below you’ll discover the differences between TENS and EMS, to help find the stimulation device that’s right for you:

What’s the difference between TENS and EMS?

TENS and EMS units are both e-stim devices, but they don’t work in the same way.

The function of a TENS unit is to stimulate the sensory nerve endings. The rationale being that this stimulation keeps pain signals from reaching the brain.

EMS machines cause muscles to contract, rather than impacting on pain signals. This makes them more effective for muscle building and rehabilitation.

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Should I choose a TENS or an EMS unit?

Before choosing which device 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

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 the best TENS units, then the TechCare Plus 24 is one to consider. After reviewing the device 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, they have benefits for a number of different conditions including:

  • Back Pain
  • Migraines
  • Labor
  • Arthritis
  • Depression

You’ll be amazed at the different conditions TENS machines can treat, all backed up by science. You can read more about the different uses here.

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.

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 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

EMS also has some surprising benefits, including reducing snoring! Find out more about the benefits of an EMS device here.

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.

Should I choose a TENS / EMS combo unit?

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 — read our full review to find out more.