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What Is the Difference between EMS and TENS Therapy?

May 13, 2017 in TENS Therapy


As technology improves and advances with each passing day, more and more people are looking for a simple, safe, effective and above all, non-invasive, non-drug methods of controlling chronic 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 which is best 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 pieces of equipment use low-voltage, gentle electrical impulses to stimulate the body for the purpose of healing or controlling pain. That, however, is where the similarity between EMS and TENS ends. Each machine has a completely variant purpose and is used for different reasons, and to treat different conditions.

What Is EMS?

EMS is a form of electrical impulse therapy that’s used to stimulate muscles, causing them to contract by mimicking the signals that come from the central nervous system. EMS is generally not used for pain management, but rather, for the strengthening of muscles. It’s used to help rehabilitate from muscle injuries, prevent muscular atrophy from disuse, to relax and tone muscles, and in some cases, to improve blood circulation in the local region.

Unlike TENS units, which use microcurrent pulses, EMS uses a stimulation cycle, causing muscles to contract and relax to decrease inflammation, promote muscle growth and encourage healing. The results of an EMS unit are similar to those from exercising, which is why the technology is generally used for re-training or toning muscles as well as improving the range of motion and preventing blood clots.


What Is TENS?

TENS is a form of therapy that’s used essentially for pain management and to stimulate healing. It does this by using low-level pulses of electrical energy to directly stimulate and control nerves, blocking pain signals to the brain while at the same time stimulating the release of endorphins into the body. This has the direct effect of relieving localized and regional pain, increasing blood circulation and improving the overall quality of life.

TENS therapy is often used to treat conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, back pain, shoulder and neck pain, carpal tunnel, pain from multiple sclerosis, sciatica and even cancer 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 condition like fibromyalgia and you need to manage your pain so you can have a more productive, higher quality of life? If so, you’re looking at a TENS machine. On the other hand, if you’ve been injured and are rehabbing your muscles or range of motion, or are trying to prevent atrophy while you heal, and EMS machine maybe your best bet.

Of course, since the functions of these machines do overlap somewhat — you might be experiencing pain while rehabbing your muscles, for example — many people find the best results from a machine that offers a high level of performance in both TENS and EMS.

Get More Information

  1. TENS Machine: This is Everything You Need to Know
  2. DR-HO'S TENS Buyer's Guide: An Introduction to TENS Therapy
  3. How to Choose a TENS Machine.
  4. What is a TENS Machine?
  5. How Do TENS Machines Work?
  6. TENS Machine Side Effects: Is TENS Therapy Safe?
  7. Do TENS Units Really Work?
  8. What Conditions are TENS Machines Used For?
  9. Best TENS Machine: How to Find the Best Price, Quality, & Machine
  10. TENS Machine Reviews: Customer Reviews on DR-HO'S TENS Machines
  11. How to Use a TENS Machine - And How to Know You’re Using It Properly
  12. TENS Machine Prices: Compare Devices & Find The Best Deal
  13. TENS Vs EMS for Muscle Recovery
  14. What Does a TENS Unit do For Muscles?
  15. How to Use TENS for Muscle Recovery
  16. Can TENS Machines Help with Muscle Recovery Post Workout?
  17. Video: The Top 7 Questions People Ask About TENS
  18. How Does a TENS Unit Decrease Pain?
  19. Can You Use a TENS Unit While Sleeping?
  20. How Long is it Safe to Use TENS For?



  1. Doucet, Barbara M., et. al. “Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation for Skeletal Muscle Function.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 85(2), June 2012, 201-215. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3375668/
  2. The Good Body. “Simple TENS vs EMS: Understand the Differences (Quickly).” http://www.thegoodbody.com/difference-tens-ems/
  3. Tens Unit Reviews. “TENS Unit vs. EMS Unit: What Is the Difference?” http://www.tensunitreviews.net/tens-vs-ems/
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