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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 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 which 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 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 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, an EMS machine may be 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

If you’d like more information on how a machine combining TENS and EMS can help your overall health and wellness needs, check out our website and get in touch with us for more help today! Read the Article TENS Machine: This is Everything You Need to Know for more information on TENS therapy. 



  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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