Home / Fitness / Simple TENS vs EMS: Understand The Differences (Quickly)
the difference between TENS and EMS

Simple TENS vs EMS: Understand The Differences (Quickly)

What does TENS stand for?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

What does EMS stand for?

Electrical muscle stimulation

The similarity between TENS and EMS:

Both deliver low voltage electric impulses to stimulate

TENS vs EMS: the main difference between the two:

  • TENS stimulates the nerves – the rationale being that the simulation keeps pain signals from reaching the brain
  • EMS causes the muscles to contract – by mimicking the action potential that comes from the central nervous system

What is TENS used for?

The relief of chronic and acute pain. Some examples include:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Foot pain
  • Labor pain
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sciatica

If you would like to see examples of some popular TENS units and a machine comparison, check out this post.

What is EMS used for?

  • Muscle strengthening
  • Rehabilitation purposes
  • Preventing disuse muscle atrophy
  • Increasing local blood circulation
  • Relaxation of muscles
  • Cosmetic muscle toning

For further information about EMS, a case study, and device comparison, see this piece.

TENS vs EMS: which is right for me?

The two machines have completely different purposes so it’s imperative that you choose the correct device.

If you’re looking to build muscle as part of a training program then a TENS unit is not going to be suitable for you. Likewise, if you are seeking some relief from chronic back pain – an EMS unit might not be the best choice for you.

Did You Know?

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

TENS EMS combination devices

There are a number of combination machines on the market that offer both TENS and EMS.

You can get the best of both worlds with a combination device. While these machines may require a higher initial investment, they are highly versatile.

An example of somebody who could benefit from a TENS EMS combination unit is an active sportsperson who works at a desk and suffers from lower back pain.

They would be able to use the TENS function to relieve their back pain and the EMS could be used to help strengthen their muscles as part of their training program.

A combination unit would be a desirable alternative for anybody who wants to use both TENS and EMS. It means they only need purchase a single device, versus two separate ones.

The other advantage of having a single device is portability. People who like to take their machine on vacation, when they’re away on a business trip, visiting friends, etc. only have to carry one device.

Purchasing a TENS or EMS unit

While some TENS and EMS units are prescription only, there are many versions that can be bought over-the-counter (OTC). It is however recommended that one consults the advice of a healthcare provider prior to using a TENS unit.

Want to find out more?

There are plenty of posts on the site about TENS and EMS. Click on the links below to see them:

TENS posts

EMS posts


  1. Taylor, D. C. (2016) Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for Pain Management. [Online] Available from: https://www.medicinenet.com/transcutaneous_electrical_nerve_stimulation/article.htm [Accessed 22 April 2018].
  2. Wikipedia (2018) Electrical muscle stimulation. [Online] Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_muscle_stimulation [Accessed 22 April 2018].
  3. Yu, F. C. (2015) Introduction to Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). [Online] Available from: http://exploreim.ucla.edu/news/introduction-to-transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation/ [Accessed 22 April 2018].

Check Also

Yoga Facts

57 Amazing Yoga Facts: The History, Benefits, Poses, (Fun!)

Statistics about yoga show that it’s growing in popularity every year with more and more …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *