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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS and EMS Device – How Do They Differ?

iTENS large wing gel pad

TENS and EMS devices differ in their functions and purposes. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) devices are primarily for pain relief by sending low-voltage electrical currents to stimulate the nerves and block pain signals. On the other hand, Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) devices are designed to stimulate muscle contractions. People often use them for muscle rehabilitation and strength training. While both devices use electrical currents, they have distinct applications and effects on the body.

Electrotherapy devices play a crucial role in addressing diverse pain conditions, offering a drug-free and non-invasive approach to treatment. Medical professionals often prescribe TENS and EMS to individuals dealing with body pain or recovering from injuries. The convenience extends beyond treatment centres, as portable devices are also readily accessible for personal use. This article provides information on TENS and EMS, including the pain relief provided by TENS, an explanation of muscle stimulation through EMS, and safety guidelines.

TENS and EMS Devices – Understanding How TENS Relieves Pain

TENS and EMS devices are both types of electrical stimulation therapy. However, they differ in their purpose and treatment. TENS is an effective method for relieving various pain conditions. It operates based on the pain gating and the release of endorphins, which play a crucial role in reducing pain sensations.

Firstly, TENS works by delivering mild electrical currents to the affected area. These electrical signals are thought to stimulate non-painful nerve fibres, influencing the gate control system in the spinal cord. The Gate Control Theory suggests that TENS may modulate the transmission of pain signals by activating non-painful nerve fibres. This, in turn, alters the perception of pain in the brain.

Secondly, TENS can stimulate the body to release endorphins, which are natural painkillers the brain produces. Endorphins bind to the opioid receptors in the nervous system, creating a feeling of euphoria and reducing the perception of pain. This natural pain relief mechanism can be particularly beneficial for individuals experiencing chronic pain or discomfort.

Conditions That Can Be Treated

  • Chronic pain: it is a long-term painful condition that persists for months or even years. Some examples include bursitis, frozen shoulder, fibromyalgiaarthritis, migraines, and cancer pain.
  • Acute pain: a condition that lasts less than six months. It may come as a direct response to soft tissue damage and resolve as the tissue or nerves heal. Acute conditions may include post-operative pain, minor sports injuries, labour pain, muscle sprain or strain, and period pain.
  • Body aches: a feeling of pain, numbness, or soreness due to overuse of body parts. These may include neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, or back pain.

A woman holding her shoulder

TENS and EMS Devices – Comprehending Muscle Stimulation through EMS

Muscle stimulation through EMS is a technique that activates and contracts muscles using electric impulses from the device. These devices mimic the electrical signals that the brain sends to the muscles, thereby stimulating muscle contractions even without voluntary movement.

When users apply the EMS device to the skin, the device sends electrical impulses through electrode pads, causing the muscles to contract. This contraction helps strengthen and tone the muscles, improves blood flow, and alleviates muscle soreness or tightness. Consequently, people can use EMS for various purposes, including muscle rehabilitation, conditioning, or simply as a supplement to regular exercise.

EMS generally has a higher frequency, up to 800 Hz, compared to TENS, which usually has a lower frequency of up to 120 Hz. This is suitable for muscle stimulation, enabling stronger contractions. Overall, EMS is a valuable technique for muscle rehabilitation, while TENS is for pain management. The application of TENS and EMS devices can be tailored to individual needs making them versatile and effective tools.

Benefits of Using EMS

Using an EMS offers several benefits for individuals. Firstly, it promotes muscle growth. This is particularly beneficial for people who suffer from muscle atrophy. Secondly, EMS contribute to the accelerated recovery of muscles and the reduction of associated pain, tension, and spasms.

Thirdly, it can be particularly helpful for people recovering from injuries or undergoing rehabilitation. Lastly, EMS can boost athletic performance and reduce fatigue. By targeting specific muscle groups, these machines are capable of enhancing muscle strength and endurance. Overall, the use of EMS offers a range of beneficial effects, including muscle growth, accelerated healing, and improved athletic performance.

A woman using iTENS on her arm and thigh

TENS and EMS Devices – Pad Placement Guide for Effective Use

Before utilising TENS and EMS devices, individuals should ensure correct pad placement for optimal effectiveness. They must clean their skin and steer clear of oils, lotions, or creams that might hinder pad conductivity. Also, shaving the treatment area is necessary. Following the instructions from the user manual meticulously ensures safe and proper usage.

When using TENS, users should position the adhesive electrodes on either side of the area experiencing pain. This ensures that the electrical current effectively targets the nerves, providing relief. People may experiment with different pad placements to find the most effective position for their needs. However, they must not position the pads directly over bony areas or scars.

For EMS devices, people have to place the pads directly on key muscle groups for effective muscle contraction stimulation. Identifying the specific muscles needing treatment is crucial. For instance, to target abdominal muscles, users need to position the pads on each side of the belly button. Similarly, when treating quadriceps or hamstring muscles, pads should be on the front or back of the thigh.

Safety Guidelines When Operating the Machines

When operating either EMS or TENS machines, users must adhere to important safety guidelines. Firstly, they must avoid placing the electrodes on any open wounds or irritated skin as this can aggravate the condition. Secondly, people should refrain from placing the electrodes on sensitive areas such as the head, throat, chest, and spine.

Thirdly, individuals must not use the machines in the shower or near water to avoid any potential electrical hazards. Lastly, people should consult with a doctor before using EMS or TENS machines, especially if they have heart conditions, epilepsy, or are pregnant.


TENS and EMS devices serve distinct purposes in health management. TENS excels at pain relief through its mechanism of interrupting pain signals and triggering the release of endorphins. On the other hand, EMS focuses on muscle stimulation. It utilises electric impulses to contract muscles, leading to enhanced strength, improved tone, and reduced soreness. Both machines, tailored to individual needs, serve as versatile tools for enhancing well-being and addressing specific health concerns.

To ensure the effective use of both devices, individuals must prioritise correct pad placement, maintain clean skin, and avoid hindrances such as lotions. Following the user manual instructions meticulously enhances safe usage. Moreover, users must avoid electrode placement on wounds or sensitive areas and refrain from using the devices near water. It is advisable to consult a doctor before use, especially for those with specific health conditions. This ensures the secure and beneficial application of these devices.

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