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Posted by Sean on 11/6/2016 to Electrotherapy

What's the Difference Between TENS and EMS units?

While many believe that TENS and EMS are just variations on the same technology, these two devices are used for their own purposes.  It is important to know the differences and be aware of how they are operated if you plan on ever coming into contact with either one of them. 

Yes, both TENS and EMS units are powered with the same electrical contacts to send charges through the body, but they do have variations on the intensity and situation of their treatments.

TENS Units

This stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulation.  It involves low-powered electric charges that stimulate the body’s nervous system and essentially massage any pain away by interrupting messages that are being sent to the brain’s receptors.

These machines are great alternative pain relievers for those who suffer from extreme pain and chronic pain.  Those who cannot take opioids, for whatever reason will find these treatments a lifesaver.  TENS also work in tandem with the body’s production of its natural pain relieving chemicals, endorphins.  This treatment can be used indefinitely, unlike prescription medications, which can do damage to the liver and kidneys over time.

EMS Units

EMS stands for Electrical Muscle Stimulation, which you may be able to identify what separates it from TENS right away.  While TENS targets the nerves, EMS targets the actual muscle tissue, causing it to relax and contract with each electrical pulse.  These units are used in conjunction with demanding training plans to improve the strength and conditioning of athletes or fitness enthusiasts.  EMS is also used to boost muscle recovery time, as well.

It is considered an advanced form of conditioning, but it is safe for anyone to use who doesn’t have underlying heart or cardiovascular issues.

The Bottom Line

While the difference between the two units is sitting right in their names, it can be easy to confuse the two because of how similar they operate and how they look.  Just remember that EMS is for MuScles and TENS is for NerveS.  Now, in regards to which unit is best under particular circumstances, and when you should be using these units in combination with other treatments, there is no one “right” answer here.  You can avoid injury or discomfort by following a few rules for each unit.

·         For EMS units, it can be an effective form of pain relief when the individual is under duress after pulling a muscle or overworked themselves a bit and there is some tearing that makes it difficult to move around.  The reason why EMS is superior here, even when in a time of pain, is because it massages the muscles and stimulates the repair of those tissues while reducing inflammation.

·         TENS is really the most ideal treatment for those who live under chronic pain that is unrelated to physical stress.  There are some injuries that cannot be treated by EMS, but TENS is effective in and that is broken bones or torn ligaments.  TENS promotes faster healing of these injuries when the recommended prescription is rest and relaxation.

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James Woods
Date: 11/5/2020

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