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Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS EMS Stimulator: The Difference Between the Two

iTENS electrodes and refill gel pads

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) are two forms of electrotherapy. TENS and EMS stimulators are medical devices that stimulate the nerves and muscles, respectively. While they may appear similar, they serve different purposes. It is crucial to understand this before using either one. TENS machines alleviate aches from various acute and chronic pain conditions. Meanwhile, EMS devices help with building muscle strength and function. Moreover, EMS devices are more powerful to induce muscle contractions.

Many people suffer from various medical conditions that severely affect their quality of life. Fortunately, they can use TENS and EMS machines to provide electric stimulation for their needs. These machines are available for purchase without prescriptions. However, consulting a healthcare professional is ideal before using any electrotherapy device. They may assess the condition and ensure safety. This article will present the differences between an EMS and a TENS stimulator, their functions and features, and safety considerations.

The Difference Between a TENS and EMS Stimulator

TENS and EMS stimulators are electrotherapy devices that use externally applied electrode pads to deliver low-voltage electrical impulses to the body. However, there is a crucial difference between them. This is the level of power they use to stimulate the body.

Generally, TENS machines have a frequency range of 1-150 Hz and an intensity range of 0-80 mA. These ranges allow TENS to stimulate the sensory nerves so the individual can experience less pain. However, they do not directly affect the muscles. Nor should their settings be high enough to cause muscle contractions. TENS does not provide treatment to directly treat the condition. However, its effect does help boost some body functions.

Meanwhile, EMS machines have frequencies ranging from 25-400 Hz and intensities of 1-120 Hz. They are noticeably more powerful because they aim to stimulate the muscle fibres. EMS stimulators often help athletes during their athletic training warm-ups. Moreover, this type of stimulation helps build muscle strength and reduce atrophy.

Conditions It Can Treat

These are the conditions TENS can treat:

  • Fibromyalgia: causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, general fatigue, and tenderness.
  • Migraines: pulsating or throbbing headaches often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to lights and sounds.
  • Osteoarthritis: a degenerative disease that causes stiffness and joint pain. It is the most common form of arthritis.
  • Diabetic neuropathy: causes nerve pain and numbness in the legs, hands, and feet. It is caused by nerve damage from diabetes.

These are the conditions EMS can treat:

  • Paralysis: loss of muscle function in any part of the body. This can be complete or partial.
  • Tendonitis: inflammation of a tendon, which causes swelling and discomfort.

A guide on how to use the iTENS smartphone app

TENS and EMS Stimulator – Functions and Features

It is crucial to remember that TENS and EMS stimulators have different functions. TENS machines alleviate aches from chronic and acute pain conditions. It provides temporary and drug-free relief through a non-invasive method. Many use it to reduce or replace their intake of pain medications. In addition, it is complementary to other treatments.

Meanwhile, EMS machines help people recover faster during their rehabilitation. When applied to select muscle groups, EMS triggers involuntary contractions that re-educate the muscles on how to contract and relax. This helps with building muscle strength, reducing atrophy, and decreasing muscle tension. They also aid with increasing cosmetic muscle tone.

Both machines are battery-operated devices that use electrode patches for the delivery of electrical pulses. There are many options for EMS and TENS electrode patches in the market. Manufacturers offer different shapes and sizes for various areas. Furthermore, TENS and EMS machines have adjustable settings and different modes to address different conditions. This is what makes these treatments versatile and suitable for many people.

How They Work to Provide Relief

TENS machines use low-frequency stimulation to trigger the production of endorphins. These are natural pain relievers that reduce the level of pain. Meanwhile, high-frequency stimulation induces the spinal nerve fibres to block pain signals from reaching the brain. This variety of effects provides versatile relief for a wide variety of conditions.

On the other hand, EMS machines lessen inflammation by increasing blood circulation to the area. It also has a massage effect that reduces muscle tension and relaxes the muscles. Overall, it helps increase mobility and speed up recovery time. It is helpful with sports injuries, like strains and sprains.

An elderly woman using an iTENS electrode on her arm

Safety Considerations When Using a TENS and EMS Stimulator

Consulting a healthcare professional is recommended before using TENS and EMS stimulators. They may assess if the condition suits TENS or EMS. Furthermore, they may advise on how to use these electrotherapy devices. Users may also read the instruction manual provided by the product manufacturer to increase their understanding of how to use their machine.

The user must stay alert while using TENS or EMS machines. They must avoid sleeping or safety-sensitive activities that require concentration. This includes driving and operating heavy machinery. Also, prevent contact with water during the session. This is because it can damage the machine and cause electric shocks. Another safety tip is to set a session timer. This can help the person avoid overusing the machine, which can have adverse effects.

Proper electrode placement is crucial for effective treatments. Users may check a guide to ensure safety while using the machine. It is important to place the electrode patches on muscle areas and avoid areas with broken, irritated, or infected skin. Lastly, avoid sensitive areas. This includes the spinal cord, chest, throat, and head.

Are There Any Risks of Adverse Effects?

Although TENS and EMS are safe for many people, there are some risks of adverse effects. Firstly, some may experience allergic reactions from the material of the electrode gel or pads themselves. Thus, the user should check underneath the pads, especially during the first session.

Furthermore, the effects of electric stimulation vary from person to person. Some may have lower tolerance and experience unpleasant tingling sensations. However, this should be temporary and stop after the session is finished. Lastly, refrain from surpassing the prescribed time for the session. Excessive use may lead to skin irritation, mild burns, and muscle and nerve damage.


TENS and EMS stimulators are helpful electrotherapy devices that many people benefit from using. TENS machines help alleviate pain by targeting the sensory nerves and triggering the pain-gating mechanism and endorphin production. Meanwhile, EMS machines induce muscle contractions in key muscle groups to increase muscle strength and growth. Both devices are drug-free and non-invasive, making them ideal for patients to use. However, it is crucial to remember their differences.

Moreover, people should consult medical professionals before using either device. They must also refer to the instruction manual to ensure safe use of their devices. They can use TENS for conditions like migraines and fibromyalgia. On the other hand, people may use EMS machines to help with athletic training and to re-educate paralysed muscles. Those interested in a wireless TENS machine may consider the iTENS from iTENS Australia. It is an FDA-cleared device with wing-shaped electrodes and a user-friendly app.

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