What Is the Difference between EMS and TENS Therapy? [Updated for 2021]

What Is the Difference between EMS and TENS Therapy? [Updated for 2021]
Updated January 2021



As technology improves and advances with each passing day, more and more people are looking for a simple, safe, effective ways to temporarily relieve their pain. The problem starts when they begin researching methods to accomplish this and encounter terms that seem to be interchangeable, and they’re not sure what the difference is.

This often happens when researchers begin looking into therapy that uses EMS vs. TENS units. Learn the difference between EMS and TENS therapy, what each is, and what their main functions are, as well as how to choose the best therapy solution for your needs.


EMS and TENS Therapy

EMS is an acronym for Electrical Muscle Stimulation, while TENS is short for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Both technologies use low-voltage, gentle electrical impulses to stimulate the muscles and nerves. That, however, is where the similarities between EMS and TENS end. Each technology has a different purpose and is used for different reasons and provide different benefits.


What Is EMS?

EMS is a form of electrical impulse therapy that’s used to stimulate muscles, causing them to contract and relax. EMS is generally not used for pain management, but rather, for the improvement of muscle performance and the temporary increase of local blood circulation. 


EMS uses a stimulation cycle, causing muscles to contract and relax to tempoararily increase local blood circulation. This particularly imporant for your feet and legs. The EMS treatment is similar to those from exercising, which is why the technology is generally used for improving muscle performance in healthy muscles.


What Is TENS?

TENS is a technology that’s used for the symptomatic relief and management of chronic pain and pain associated with arthritis. By doing this, TENS can help temporarily relieve muscle aches and pains to syptomatic relief of chronic pain and arthritic pain. 





Choosing Between TENS and EMS

The first step in choosing between EMS and TENS devices is to know what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you suffering from a chronic, intractable pain and pain associated with arthritis? If so, a TENS machine would make an ideal option. On the other hand, if you are looking to temporarily increase local circulation in the legs and feet as well as improve muscle performance by stimulating your healthy muscles and nerves, then an EMS machine might be your best bet. Of course, since the functions of these machines do overlap somewhat — you might be experiencing pain while trying to temporarily increase your local circulation. For example — many people find the best results from a machine that offers a high level of performance in both TENS and EMS.



1. Doucet, Barbara M., et. al. “Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation for Skeletal Muscle Function.” 

2. The Good Body. “Simple TENS vs EMS: Understand the Differences (Quickly).”

3. Tens Unit Reviews. “TENS Unit vs. EMS Unit: What Is the Difference?”