EMS vs. TENS units : Which one is better?

Disclosure: We may receive a small commission when you shop by clicking on the links on our site. This is at absolutely no added cost to you. Learn more.

tens usage

EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulator) and TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) are used to promote the healing of muscle, painful joints and other injuries. These machines can work wonders to help with the healing process through non-invasive methods. Although they might appear similar at first, they are not the same at all. EMS and TENS units have similarities but also big differences. Hence, they are used for different purposes as they each have their own set of strengths and weaknesses.

In this article, we will dive into the differences between EMS vs TENS units. This article will reveal what they are, how they work and which one is right for you.

What are EMS units? 

EMS units produce a weak form of electrical stimulation that is meant to work in conversation with your central nervous system and muscles to help them recoup quickly from injuries and exercise. Some EMS devices will provide very specific instructions on how they should be used for best results.

ems
tens

What is a TENS unit? 

A TENS unit is used to send electrical pulses through the skin to stimulate nerves, which can relieve pain. It is a non-invasive, drug free form of pain relief. Many women get these units and can use them while pregnant. It can help them during labor and delivery. TENS units are great for many other uses too. They will work to improve the body’s range of motion, joint flexibility, strength and endurance.

Best TENS Units

Best electrical muscle stimulators

Everything you should know about Electrical Muscle Stimulation

What are the differences between TENS and EMS machines?

Both TENS and EMS systems share a common principle of operation: they generate an electrical signal that is applied to your body through electrodes. The purpose of this signal is to stimulate motor nerves in order to block the transmission of pain. Based on these similarities, you might wonder what’s the difference between a TENS and EMS unit. Both devices deliver electrical signals that stimulate nerve endings, so how do you choose the right one? To understand, it’s important to appreciate the key differences between EMS and TENS treatment. Learning more about these two devices can help you make an educated decision about which one will be best suited for you, as well as what type is going to work the best instead of causing side effects.

TENS units are lower-frequency devices with a larger number of electrodes[1]. They work as both a pain reliever and as a stimulator of nerves and muscles, resulting in increased blood flow.

EMS (electro muscle stimulation) units, on the other hand, send an electrical signal that induces contraction in your skeletal muscles. This can be used for rehabilitation in the case of muscle damage, or to force your body into an intense workout without having to use physical effort.

EMS systems are often sold with multiple electrodes to be attached to specific parts of the body. The user is then instructed to contract that muscle for a period of time or until it feels tired, giving their muscles an intense workout. Most EMS units can also provide different levels of electricity and vary the intensity based on your needs, which makes them ideal for specific training.

TENS units, on the other hand, use a weaker electrical current. They’re lower-intensity than EMS units and use less power, which makes them safer for the casual user or those with sensitive skin. TENS units are designed to stimulate nerves in your body instead of your muscles, reducing pain signals that would normally be sent to your brain. TENS devices have multiple electrodes that can be placed anywhere on your body. The electrodes are connected to a portable, battery-powered unit that delivers electrical impulses directly to nerve fibers in the treated area. In addition to providing targeted relief from muscle pain and stiffness, TENS units can help relieve headaches, chronic pain, and other conditions by blocking pain signals coming from damaged nerves.

using tens

Cost

EMS units are typically much more expensive than TENS units. Even though the cost difference is significant, it may not be a valid reason for deciding which type of unit to buy. The reason for the price difference between the two can be attributed to several factors. Since TENS units are used for pain reduction only, they do not have to be very sophisticated. Some of the features that EMS units come with may be optional on a TENS unit. TENS units also generate much lower electric current than EMS units, so they do not have to be as strong.

Which one should I use?

Although the costs are significantly different, the cost difference is subjective and can vary from person to person.

The most important thing about buying either one of these devices is what you want to achieve, what kind of injury/pain do you have, etc. As explained above, these devices work differently from each other and hence their usage should be based on how this will work for you.

To understand the difference simply, let’s look at two examples.

Example 1 : (Fibromyalgia)

You have severe pain in your lower back and legs and the pain is spreading over your body. This is very similar to what fibromyalgia patients go through. The only long term solution for this is to start some exercises so that you increase the blood flow within your body which will relieve a lot of your pain. But in the meantime, you will need some relief from this pain while you are doing these exercises.

TENS units work great for this kind of everyday chronic back and leg aches and pains as it stimulates a muscle (like when you do exercise) which provides a better blood flow to the area being stimulated. This is similar to EMS. But TENS units are more for an aching muscle feel than the actual muscles contracting as with EMS.

Example 2: (Muscle Spasms) [1]

On the other hand, let’s consider someone who is suffering from a muscle spasm. With EMS, you are able to contract a specific muscle, or set of muscles, which will then loosen up the contracted area and release the pain. For example, if your leg goes to sleep due to being in one position too long (such as driving), instead of having to rub it out for ten minutes with your hands, an EMS unit can contract the muscle over and over until it releases.

The muscles are actually contracting so this is why you see people who appear to be flexing their muscles during a session. This effect is also the same as what happens when a chiropractor manually manipulates your spine. The contraction of muscles is a natural reaction to the electric current which is why it works so well.

Conclusion

We hope this article has helped you understand what the TENS and EMS units are used for and the basic difference between the two. Whichever one you choose, it is better to work with your doctor to make sure that it will be safe for you and that you will have positive results from using either of the units. 

Both of these units have proved to be extremely helpful for people in relieving their pain and alleviating different conditions. The right unit for you will depend on your condition and how big of a range of pain relief that you are looking to achieve. We hope that whichever machine you pick, will give you similar results and give you the much needed pain relief.

For more helpful information on wellness and massagers, check out our guides here.