Differences Between TENS and an EMS Machine

Electrotherapy is a technique that uses electrical energy for medical treatment. Medical professionals recommend electrotherapy to their patients who deal with painful conditions. The two popular names in electrotherapy are Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Electrical Muscle Stimulator (EMS). You may have heard of TENS and EMS and wonder about their differences. While both use electrical currents, they serve a different purpose. A TENS machine primarily stimulates the sensory nerves, while an EMS machine stimulates the muscles (motor nerves).

A TENS unit is a portable device consisting of an electrical impulse generator with electrodes. An example of an effective TENS machine is iTENS. iTENS is a wireless TENS device that can relieve acute and chronic pain. It is controllable from your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection. The iTENS sends the electrical currents to the skin surface and stimulates nearby nerves. When the TENS stimulates the sensory nerves, it blocks the pain signals from travelling to the brain. On the other hand, an EMS machine sends electrical currents to target key muscle groups, typically on the muscle belly. It does not relieve any pain, but they cause muscle contractions, like when exercising.

A TENS unit can treat pain from arthritis, sciatica, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, or tendonitis. It induces the release of endorphins which act as natural pain relievers. Additionally, TENS improves blood circulation and can facilitate faster recovery of damaged nerves. In contrast, the EMS machine delivers electrical currents directly to the muscle. When the muscle contracts and relaxes repeatedly, it prevents muscle atrophy, minimizes inflammation, and speeds up muscle healing and regrowth. As a result, muscle contractions promote joints and connective tissue stability.

TENS and EMS Machine: Difference in Currents

The TENS machine uses a lower frequency than EMS. When using a TENS device, start from the lowest frequency and gradually work your way up. As you increase the intensity, you will feel a tingling sensation. However, even at high frequencies, the currents should not cause discomfort or cause the muscles to contract. An EMS machine uses a more robust frequency to stimulate the muscles. These are the main differences between TENS and EMS. If you are wondering which therapy is suitable for you, consider the nature of your condition. TENS is the ideal option for pain caused by nerve damage or injury. On the other hand, an EMS machine can better deal with muscle strengthening.

Fortunately, some machines have a TENS and EMS machine combo like the wireless iTENS. For example, you can manually adjust the iTENS’ frequency to relieve acute and chronic pain. Similarly, you can set the iTENS at a low frequency to improve blood circulation if you aim for muscle relaxation.

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