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The 2022 Ultimate Guide to Electric Muscle Stimulators

Suppose you are interested in using an electric muscle stimulator device for your electrical stimulation (e-stim) therapy. However, you cannot decide between getting a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) or an Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) unit. Firstly, it is vital to know what the source of your pain and discomfort is, whether it is from muscle or nerve problems. It is best to consult with your doctor or physical therapist to guide you toward the most beneficial type of electrotherapy treatment you require.

In most cases nowadays, people know what type of electrotherapy treatment they want but cannot decide on the most appropriate device to purchase. Luckily, iTENS Australia offers the revolutionary iTENS wireless unit. This device is primarily a TENS machine but has built-in settings to be an effective electric muscle stimulator for EMS. In addition, the iTENS wireless and its accessories at iTENS Australia also have additional features to increase comfort and convenience. Find out more on TENS and EMS treatments with this highly innovative device below.

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Difference Between a TENS Machine and an Electric Muscle Stimulator

Firstly, both TENS and EMS therapy employ a small battery-operated device that sends painless electrical currents using adhesive electrode pads that attach to the skin. The main difference between the two is what they treat. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Transcutaneous means through the skin. It is a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain relief. The electrical impulses from the TENS machine interfere with pain signals from reaching the brain. Most traditional TENS machines can only treat pain and uses wires to connect the electrode pads to the device. Conveniently, the iTENS unit at iTENS Australia is entirely wire-free and has multiple settings, including an electric muscle stimulator mode. Furthermore, common reasons to use TENS therapy are:

  • blocking pain signals in the spinal cord from reaching the brain
  • inducing the pain receptors in the brain to decrease the priority of pain signals
  • prompting the release of more endorphins
  • increasing blood circulation to affected areas

On the other hand, EMS stands for Electrical Muscle Stimulation. In contrast to TENS, EMS therapy targets vital muscle groups instead of the nerves. Moreover, the electrical impulses from the electric muscle stimulator aim to trigger muscle contractions instead of stimulating the nerves. Hence, EMS therapy is commonly used for:

  • muscle strengthening and re-education
  • reducing oedema swelling in body tissues
  • muscle recovery
  • relieving muscle spasms
  • relieving muscle pain
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How Do TENS Machines and Electric Muscle Stimulators Work?

TENS Machines

TENS machines and electric muscle stimulators are both estim devices that are used for electrotherapy. As stated before, these devices are compact and battery-operated, using electrodes to deliver tiny electrical impulses to the skin. However, how exactly do they work? Firstly, TENS machines work by employing the electrical impulses from the device into the nerves from the skin through the electrode pads. Then, it reduces the sensation of pain depending on the frequency. The two ways that TENS therapy can minimise pain are as follows:

  1. At High Frequencies (50 to 100 Hz) – also called sensory level stimulation. TENS therapy at these frequencies can block the pain signals located in the central nervous system (specifically the spinal cord) from reaching the brain. A theory called the “Gate Control Theory of Pain Management” states that the nerve fibres at the spinal cord act as a sort of gating mechanism. Therefore, sensory level stimulation closes these pain gates to reduce the perception of pain by inducing their receptors.
  2. At Low Frequencies (2 to 10 Hz) – also called motor level stimulation. TENS at these frequencies, the body produces more endorphins. Endorphins are our body’s natural pain killers. It is due to the fact that these hormones act much like morphine; it reduces the feeling of pain by increasing sensations of happiness and well-being. Physical therapists commonly call these natural chemicals the “feel-good” hormone. In addition, motor level stimulation can also help activate muscles and increase blood circulation. Thus, it provides better healing and recovery.

Electric Muscle Stimulators

Secondly, electric muscle stimulators work relatively the same way as TENS. It employs a similar device that sends tiny electrical currents to the skin thru sticky electrode pads. However, the electrical currents in EMS target the muscles directly, causing them to contract rapidly. Continuous muscle contraction with EMS helps improve blood circulation, muscle healing and muscle growth. Moreover, it relaxes the muscles, minimises inflammation and prevents muscle atrophy. Thus, athletes can benefit most from electric muscle stimulators due to their effectiveness in rebuilding muscle groups without excessive strain.

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What Can TENS and EMS Treat?

A TENS machine and an electric muscle stimulator are both highly effective devices employed by physical therapists. TENS therapy primarily involves treatment for pain and conditions that results in body or nerve pain. Thus, an effective TENS machine, like the wireless iTENS unit from iTENS Australia, can treat various pain disorders such as:

  • arthritis
  • bursitis
  • fibromyalgia
  • headaches and migraines
  • labour pain
  • period pain
  • nerve pain
  • joint pain
  • back pain
  • leg pain
  • foot pain
  • post-injury pain
  • post-surgery pain
  • pain from wounds and incisions

Subsequently, EMS therapy with electric muscle stimulators mainly involves the treatment of muscles. High-quality estim devices, such as the iTENS wireless TENS machine, can be set to an EMS setting, which can:

  • relieve back spasms
  • work weakened or atrophied muscles
  • retrain muscles after surgery or illness
  • aid in athletic recovery

Other Types of Electrical Stimulation

TENS and EMS using TENS machines and electric muscle stimulators are the most popular types of electrical stimulation in electrotherapy. However, your physician or physical therapist may recommend other types of electrical stimulation or in conjunction with TENS and EMS. It would depend on your specific condition. The other less-known types of electrical stimulation are as follows:

  1. Electrical Stimulation for Tissue Repair (ESTR) – this type of electrical stimulation aims to speed up the healing process of wounds.
  2. Interferential Current (IFC) – much like TENS, this type of electrical stimulation targets the nerves to reduce pain. The main difference, however, is that the electrical currents penetrate deeper into the tissue; rather than applying them across the surface of the skin and into the nerves.
  3. Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) – NMES directly targets the nerves in muscles. It aims to restore muscle function and increase strength and range of motion after an injury.
  4. Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) – this type of electrical stimulation involves implanting a device in the body. It aims to preserve function and motor skills in muscles that became paralysed or weakened.
  5. Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) – similar to FES, SCS also involves an implantable device. However, its purpose is much more like TENS as it aims to relieve pain by sending low levels of electricity directly into the spinal cord.
  6. Iontophoresis – this type of electrical stimulation delivers ionically charged currents into the tissue thru the skin. It decreases sweating by blocking the sweat glands. Thus, it is usually a treatment for hyperhidrosis.
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Using TENS Machines as an Electric Muscle Stimulator

TENS and EMS devices use electricity to stimulate the nerves or muscles. TENS machines may help treat pain, while electric muscle stimulator devices may promote and strengthen your muscles. Although, using a TENS machine as an electric muscle stimulator cannot be used for muscle building. However, there are combinations of TENS and EMS devices that will help with building muscles and help relieve pain. These devices are helpful for athletes and others wishing to recuperate from surgery or treat injuries and manage pain while still being able to train. These combination units will allow you to either relieve pain or build muscle by using different program intensities. 

Since using TENS machines as an electric muscle stimulator does not provide a full muscle contraction, TENS therapy cannot help build muscles. However, the treatment is practical for relieving pain and discomfort. Hence, this treatment can help lead to better performance in the gym and better muscle development due to enhanced workouts with less muscle pain. 

If you currently only need pain management treatment, then a TENS machine is a better choice than an electric muscle stimulator. On the contrary, if you need physical therapy that helps with muscle pain, stiffness, or spasms, then an electric muscle stimulator device is the best choice than a TENS machine. Accordingly, the iTENS wireless unit at iTENS Australia can benefit both TENS and EMS therapy as a TENS machine and an electric muscle stimulator.

The iTENS Wireless Unit as an Electric Muscle Stimulator

Some people may suffer from chronic pain that originates from both the nerves and the muscles. In these cases, it is best for people to acquire pain relief by using a device that can be used as a TENS machine or an electric muscle stimulator. Conveniently, iTENS Australia’s iTENS wireless unit is most suitable for these scenarios.

Using the iTENS wireless unit as an electric muscle stimulator is quick and easy. You may no longer have to visit your doctor or physical therapist every time you need electrotherapy. It is made possible with iTENS’ built-in pre-set settings in the iTENS smartphone app. Moreover, these pre-set settings include treatment for different body locations and health conditions. You only need to pair your iOS or Android smartphone with the device using a Bluetooth connection. Thus, you can get efficient electrotherapy with only a few taps on your smartphone.

Alternatively, you may also manually set the frequency, waveform, and pulse rate for those who need more specific treatment parameters. You may use the iTENS wireless unit as an electric muscle stimulator by programming it accordingly. Firstly, adhere electrode gel pads to the muscle group. Secondly, turn on the device and pair it to your smartphone via Bluetooth. It is recommended to start with a low-frequency stimulation and gradually increase it to your desired intensity. You will feel a tingling sensation once electrotherapy is working. You may follow the iTENS app’s pre-set setting or consult with a medical professional for optimal pad placement.

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Features of the iTENS Wireless Unit at iTENS Australia

Aside from the flexibility of the iTENS wireless unit as a TENS machine and an electric muscle stimulator, it has even more features. These are:

  • FDA clearance – it is a safe medical-grade device cleared by the FDA, and no prescription is needed to purchase it
  • 100% drug-free and non-invasive – it has no adverse side effects and does not physically penetrate the skin; it does not cause further discomfort
  • Flexible electrode pads – the innovative wing-like design of the iTENS electrode pads are contoured to fit around most joints and areas of the body
  • Thin, lightweight, comfortable, compact and discreet – it is highly portable, and you may wear it underneath clothing without anyone noticing it
  • 100% wire-free – no more hassle of having to deal with easily tangled wired; allows users to stay active as it does not interfere with range of motion
  • USB-powered with rechargeable and long-lasting batteries – no need to replace batteries; can last up to 24 hours depending on usage
  • Customisable – easily accessible using the iTENS smartphone app while also having manual options for more specific treatment requirements; pulse rate, waveform, and pulse width can all be set accordingly
  • Versatile – can treat various pain symptoms, conditions and disorders; especially with the help of its built-in pre-set settings on the iTENS smartphone app; has both TENS and EMS treatment options
  • Interchangeable electrode gel pads – cost-efficient with its low-cost hypoallergenic replacement electrode gel pads

The iTENS Kits and its Accessories at iTENS Australia

The iTENS wireless unit is a revolutionary device that combines wearable technology and the effectiveness of estim machines. Furthermore, it has easily programmable settings to be an effective TENS machine or electric muscle stimulator. In addition, this highly innovative device is readily available on the iTENS Australia website, requiring no prescription to purchase. iTENS Australia offers the iTENS wireless unit in kits. Moreover, its interchangeable spare wings and replaceable gel pads are also available for purchase separately.

iTENS TENS Pain Relief Kits

  1. Small Wing Kit
  2. Large Wing Kit

Each iTENS Pain Relief Kit includes:

  • 1 x Interchangeable Gen 2 iTENS Device (the white round part), which is the rechargeable battery and the Bluetooth receiver
  • Small or Large G2 Wings with a laser-printed silver conductive surface (14.0cm x 4.4cm)
  • One set of reusable and replaceable gel pads (15 – 20 applications)
  • Charging dock with USB charging cable
  • Quick start guide
  • Sealable bag to store the wings and gel when not in use

Spare Wing Accessories

  1. Small Spare Wing – ideal for smaller treatment areas such as the ankles, knees, elbows and wrists
  2. Large Spare Wing – ideal for broader treatment areas that require maximum coverage, such as the back, thighs and shoulders
  3. Long Strip Spare Wing – ideal for long-length treatments areas that radiate downwards (best suited for treating sciatica)

Gel Pad Accessories

  1. Small Gel Pads
  2. Large Gel Pads
  3. Long Strip Gel Pads

Each box contains sets of three reusable and replaceable gel pads (up to 45 – 60 applications in total)

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Guidelines in Operating the iTENS TENS Electric Muscle Stimulator

Whether using the iTENS wireless unit as a TENS machine or electric muscle stimulator, operating it is straightforward. Follow these easy steps for setting up and using this innovative device for electrotherapy.

Set-Up

  • Placing the device in discoverable mode – press and hold the centre button for 3 seconds (note that the iTENS is discoverable when the LED light begins flashing)
  • Pairing with the iTENS smartphone app – pair the device with the smartphone app (available at the Apple Store and Google Play) using Bluetooth; and from the app, press the chain link icon on the home screen to search and pair the available TENS devices. A solid light on the device indicates that pairing with the iTENS smartphone app is successful

Usage

  • Skin surface preparation and pad placement – place the electrode pads on clean, dry skin over the area of treatment (do not place the pads on the front or sides of your neck, on your temples, mouth or eyes, directly on the spine and on broken, infected or irritated skin)
  • Activate the device – turn the device on and connect to the smartphone app
  • Activate the iTENS smartphone app – launch the iTENS smartphone app and select the desired treatment using one of the pre-set settings; or manually set customised parameters by adjusting the pulse rate, waveform, or pulse width
  • Post-treatment – after the session, switch the device off and carefully remove the pads, then store in a clean and dry place (ideally in the sealable poly bag that comes with the kit)
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The iTENS Smartphone App

One of the main benefits of using the iTENS wireless unit is its capability of accessing it thru the iTENS Smartphone App. It is especially true if you intend on using it as both a TENS machine and an electric muscle stimulator. Not only does having a Bluetooth-capable device improve pain treatment quality by not limiting movement, but it also provides more user-friendliness. The pre-set setting makes conducting electrotherapy easy even without the supervision of a professional. Alternatively, it can also be fully customisable, ideal for users requiring specific treatment parameters.

  • Pre-set settings – the iTENS smartphone app offers various fixed treatment settings based on common body aches and health conditions. It includes 11 programs for body parts, including wrists, elbows, shoulder, knee, back, hip, thigh, and ankle. In addition, there are 13 programs for health conditions such as post-surgical pain, neuropathy pain, muscle relaxation, and a massage mode.
  • Programmable settings – for more experienced users, customisable treatment is easy using the manual mode settings. It includes adjustable parameters such as pulse rate, pulse width, and waveforms. Users are able to find optimal relief straightforwardly and effectively.
  • Results Tracking – users can track continuous usage time and are able to record and chart the results easily with the iTENS smartphone app. This feature is especially helpful for users who are finding the most optimal setting for their treatment sessions.

Safety Precautions for Using TENS Machines and Electric Muscle Stimulators

TENS and EMS therapy using TENS machines or electric muscle stimulators are generally safe to use. Using these devices are 100% drug-free and non-invasive. Hence, they have no adverse side effects, unlike pain relieving medication like opioids. In addition, devices like iTENS wireless unit from iTENS Australia have the proper documentation to prove it to be so. The iTENS is the world’s first FDA-cleared true wireless TENS and EMS machine. Having FDA clearance ensures users that the iTENS has passed the required testing to be a safe medical-grade device for personal use.

However, there are some safety precautions to using a TENS machine or electric muscle stimulator, as with most medical-grade devices. Firstly, though TENS and EMS therapy can be used anytime and as much as needed, users should take 20-minute breaks between sessions to avoid overstimulation or skin irritation. The iTENS gel pads are hypoallergenic to decrease the chances of allergic reactions. Secondly, users should not conduct electrotherapy when driving, operating heavy machinery, sleeping and taking a bath or shower (or anywhere near bodies of water). Lastly, it is best not to use TENS or EMS therapy when you:

  • are in the early stages of pregnancy (you can use TENS machines to relieve pain during the start of labour, however)
  • have epilepsy, cancer or a heart condition
  • have implanted metal or electronic devices (such as defibrillators)

If unsure about using a TENS machine or electric muscle stimulator, you may consult your physician or physical therapist before continuing.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, TENS and EMS are both electrical stimulation methods that employ devices for electrotherapy. They work similarly but are utilised differently. TENS therapy uses TENS machines to treat various pain symptoms and conditions. On the other hand, EMS therapy uses electric muscle stimulators to contract muscle groups to aid in their recovery.

In addition, the iTENS wireless unit from iTENS Australia can definitely be a wise investment for those who require both TENS and EMS therapy. Moreover, it is an effective device, whether as a TENS machine or an electric muscle stimulator. Furthermore, electrotherapy has never been easy and convenient with its added features for increased mobility. With iTENS Australia, gone are the days of wired and bulky TENS and EMS devices.