Differences Between TENS and an EMS Machine

Electrotherapy using electrical stimulation (e-stim) is a technique that uses electrical energy for medical treatment. Medical professionals recommend e-stim electrotherapy to their patients who deal with painful conditions. The two most popular types of e-stim electrotherapy are Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Electrical Muscle Stimulator (EMS). Moreover, you may have heard of TENS and EMS and wonder about their differences. While both involve devices that use electrical currents, they ultimately serve different purposes. A TENS machine primarily stimulates the sensory nerves, while an EMS machine stimulates the muscles (motor nerves). However, there are devices that can effectively do both. Likewise, the iTENS wireless unit at iTENS Australia is a high-quality TENS machine with EMS capabilities. Find out more on the difference between TENS and EMS as well as the revolutionary iTENS device.

What are TENS and EMS Machines?

E-stim devices are portable devices with an electrical impulse generator attached with adhesive electrode pads. The device sends the electrical currents through the electrodes to the skin’s surface for electrical stimulation. TENS and EMS machines both employ the same concept but target different parts of the body. These devices can both relieve pain using electric stimulation but have other uses in their respective treatments. 

Firstly, TENS machines use electrical currents to stimulate the nerves. Furthermore, when TENS electrotherapy stimulates the sensory nerves, it blocks the pain signals from travelling to the brain. This technique is often referred to as pain gating. Pain gating falls under the Pain Gate Theory of Pain Management, wherein TENS electrotherapy can manipulate the nerve gates in the spinal cord to close. In addition, low-frequency TENS electrotherapy can also induce the body to produce more endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain-killing hormones. On the other hand, an EMS machine sends electrical currents to target key muscle groups, typically on the muscle belly. Whilst it can relieve muscle pain, it is not as effective in relieving pain as TENS electrotherapy does. Hence, the primary use for EMS electrotherapy is to cause muscle contractions, like when exercising.


TENS and EMS Machines: What Can They Treat?

TENS and EMS machines nowadays are common for a variety of physical therapy treatments. A TENS machine can effectively treat pain from various pain symptoms, conditions and disorders such as:

  • arthritis
  • bursitis
  • sciatica
  • fibromyalgia
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • tennis elbow
  • tendonitis

Additionally, TENS improves blood circulation and can facilitate faster recovery of damaged nerves. In contrast, an EMS machine delivers electrical currents directly to the muscle. When the muscle contracts and relaxes repeatedly, it:

  • prevents muscle atrophy
  • reduces muscle spasms and cramps
  • minimises inflammation
  • speeds up muscle healing
  • stimulates muscle regrowth and building
  • prevents venous thrombosis

As a result, muscle contractions promote joints and connective tissue stability. Thus, both a TENS machine and an EMS machine have their own sets of treatments. Luckily, more devices nowadays can conduct both TENS and EMS electrotherapy. Accordingly, the iTENS wireless unit from iTENS Australia is ideal for those who want a TENS machine with vast customisation options, including EMS.

TENS and EMS Machine: Difference in Currents

Generally, a 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 type of electrotherapy is suitable for you, consider the nature of your condition. TENS electrotherapy is the ideal option if you:

  • suffer from acute (short term) or chronic (long term) pain
  • are experiencing pain after surgery or operation
  • have re-occurring headaches or migraines
  • are suffering from pain caused by injury or wound
  • have one or more pain symptoms, conditions or disorders

On the contrary, an EMS machine can better deal with muscle strengthening. Thus, EMS electrotherapy is best suited if you:

  • have poor blood circulation
  • have muscles lacking tone
  • suffer from weakened muscles
  • are experiencing a lessened range of motion due to muscle disuse or injury/ illness

The iTENS Wireless Unit at iTENS Australia

Fortunately, some devices have a TENS and EMS machine combo feature, like the iTENS wireless unit at iTENS Australia. For example, you can manually adjust the frequency, pulse rate and wavelength to relieve acute and chronic pain. Similarly, you can set the iTENS at a lower frequency, pulse rate and wavelength to improve blood circulation if you aim for muscle relaxation. However, the iTENS wireless unit features an easier way of conducting TENS or EMS electrotherapy. It has built-in pre-set settings optimised for specific body parts or health conditions. Moreover, it is easily controllable from your iOS or Android smartphone via the iTENS app thru a seamless Bluetooth connection. This feature enables users to get efficient electrotherapy treatments without constantly seeking consultation from their doctor or physical therapist. Thus, effective e-stim therapy is now straightforward with only a few taps on your smartphone device.

Increase Portability with a 100% Wire-free Device

In addition, the iTENS wireless unit combines wearable technology with the practical and lasting pain relief of e-stim therapy. It is thin, lightweight, comfortable, portable and discreet. Its wireless feature and compact design enable you to wear the iTENS wireless TENS and EMS machine effortlessly underneath your clothing. Furthermore, you can conduct electrotherapy even while doing chores, working out or just on the go without hassle. 

Equally important, this device also employs an innovative interchangeable wing-like adhesive electrode pad design. These pads are contoured to fit around most joints and areas of the body. These adhesive electrode gel pads are also hypoallergenic; users will have fewer chances of triggering allergic reactions when using these gel pads. Subsequently, iTENS Australia also makes this revolutionary device cost-effective with its availability of low-cost replacement gel pad sets. Thus, pain management treatment sessions with the iTENS TENS and EMS machine are quick, efficient and convenient.


Electrotherapy treatment with TENS and EMS is safe, drug-free and non-invasive. Moreover, the iTENS device is the world’s first FDA-cleared entirely wireless e-stim machine. Having FDA clearance ensures users that this TENS and EMS machine has the proper testing and requirements to be a safe medical device for personal use. Likewise, no prescription is needed to purchase this medical-grade device.

However, as with most medical-grade devices, there are some safety precautions that users must be aware of when using a TENS or EMS machine. Users should not use these devices when driving, operating heavy machinery and taking a bath or shower. Furthermore, it is best not to conduct TENS or EMS therapy when you are at the early stages of pregnancy (but not in labour), epileptic and have metal or electronic implants. If unsure, you may always consult with a medical professional if you are eligible for e-stim therapy and make use of the effectiveness of the iTENS wireless unit at iTENS Australia.