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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

TENS NMES – What Are The Differences?

A newscaster reporting about TENS as a new pain relief

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) are commonly used in physical therapy and sports medicine. Some people mistake them for being the same thing. However, there are important distinctions between TENS and NMES. The former is a type of electrotherapy that uses low-voltage currents to relieve pain by stimulating the nerve endings. Meanwhile, the latter uses a stronger electrical current, but it is specifically designed to help strengthen weakened muscles or restore their range of motion.

Whether people are dealing with chronic pain or seeking to improve muscle strength, it is crucial to choose the right treatment for individual needs. Hence, it is important to distinguish methods from each other. The following sections will present the differences between the two types of electrical stimulation regarding their functions, settings, and safety precautions. The information will help them make an informed decision about which kind of electrotherapy is best for them.

TENS and NMES – Difference in Functions

TENS and NMES are both highly in-demand techniques in rehabilitation because of their proven effectiveness and convenience. They have many benefits and minimal risks when compared to other forms of treatment. However, they differ in their functions and applications.

TENS is primarily used for pain relief. It delivers mild electrical pulses to sensory nerves. As a result, it interrupts pain signals, providing symptomatic relief for various types of chronic pain. It stimulates the nerves and promotes blood circulation, which can potentially reduce the sensation of pain. TENS is often used to address conditions such as fibromyalgia and postoperative pain.

On the other hand, NMES focuses on stimulating motor nerves and contracting muscles directly. It is commonly used for muscle recovery and rehabilitation purposes. By delivering electrical currents to the target muscles, NMES can help maintain or re-establish muscle function. Moreover, it can increase muscle endurance and prevent muscle volume loss. It is often used in conditions such as hamstring or quadriceps muscle injuries, where voluntary muscle contraction may be limited or weak.

Benefits of Electrical Stimulation

In general, electrical stimulation has many benefits. Here are some of them:

  • Prevent muscle atrophy – Weak muscles can benefit from electrical stimulation to regain strength and function.
  • Strengthen muscles – This allows individuals to perform exercises for longer periods without muscle fatigue.
  • Enhanced range of motion – The stimulation can promote blood circulation and muscle relaxation.
  • Reduced muscle spasms – The stimulation of the nerves can lessen involuntary muscle contractions.
  • Natural Pain Relief – In particular, TENS helps manage different pain conditions without the use of drugs or intrusive procedures.
  • Convenient – Electrical stimulation machines are typically easy to use. Thus, people can operate them anywhere and anytime.

A person placing a TENS unit on the wrist of a sitting elderly woman

TENS and NMES – Variation in Frequency and Levels of Intensity

One key aspect of electrical stimulation is the ability to vary the frequency and levels of intensity. These variations of TENS and NMES allow for a personalised approach. Thus, it can cater to individual needs and goals. Adapting the parameters of the stimulation ensures maximum benefits and enhanced outcomes.

For TENS therapy, there are different frequencies to utilise for targeting different types of pain. Lower frequencies, ranging from 2 to 10 Hz, are commonly used for chronic pain relief. On the other hand, higher frequencies, typically between 80 and 120 Hz, are effective for acute pain. This flexibility allows for tailored pain management strategies.

Similarly, NMES provides flexibility in adjusting the levels of intensity for muscle stimulation. By setting the pulse amplitude and duration within a safe and comfortable range, people can gradually increase the intensity to suit their preferences. This allows for progressive muscle strengthening, especially in cases of muscle weakness. This ability also aids in managing muscle fatigue during rehabilitation sessions, preventing overexertion and ensuring optimal outcomes.

How Electrical Stimulation Works

Both methods are electrical stimulation, a therapeutic technique that uses electrical currents to stimulate muscles and nerves. It works by targeting specific parts of the body, commonly referred to as motor points. The stimulation activates them through the use of self-adhesive electrodes that people place on their skin. They need to appropriately adjust the settings and properly place the pads for optimal results.

The electrical stimulation of the muscles and nerves can help treat a variety of conditions, such as muscle weakness and nerve damage. Individuals with medical conditions like arthritisbursitis, and headaches can also benefit from the treatments.

A TENS machine with essential information about it

TENS and NMES – Ease of Use and Safety Precautions

TENS and NMES devices are widely used for many therapeutic purposes. One of the key advantages of these devices is their ease of use. People can easily apply self-adhesive electrodes to the targeted areas. They can modify the duration, intensity, and frequency to their comfort level. However, they should base the settings on the recommendation of a doctor or the manufacturer.

The user-friendly nature makes electrical stimulation machines accessible to a wide variety of individuals. They are popular among athletes for muscle recovery and for people seeking pain relief. The units available on the market are typically portable. TENS are usually small and handheld that use two or more leads. Meanwhile, NMES devices are slightly bigger but still manageable for daily use.

While the machines are generally safe, it is crucial to follow certain safety precautions. Firstly, it is important to read and understand the user manual to ensure proper usage and avoid any potential risks. Secondly, it is essential to use FDA-cleared devices recommended by professionals. Lastly, individuals with pacemakers, epilepsy, heart conditions, or who are pregnant should consult their doctor before using the devices to ensure safety.

Potential Side Effects

Some people may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions at the site of electrode placement. Hence, it is crucial to regularly inspect the skin, avoid broken or worn-out pads, and discontinue use if any discomfort or irritation occurs. Furthermore, prolonged or excessive use of the stimulation devices may lead to muscle soreness or fatigue. It is advisable to follow the recommended usage guidelines to prevent overstimulation.

Moreover, improper usage or electrode placement may result in discomfort or tingling sensations. Thus, it is important to carefully follow the instructions and consult with a healthcare professional if any adverse effects occur.


TENS and NMES devices are convenient and user-friendly tools that offer a wide range of benefits. Individuals seeking pain relief or muscle recovery can use it at home or in their workplaces. However, it is crucial to prioritise safety by carefully reading the guidelines and consulting with healthcare professionals. By following precautions, they can maximise the effectiveness and safety of both treatments. They can use the two together or separately depending on their condition and goals for recovery or rehabilitation.

Some traditional methods like painkillers may not work or may provide adverse effects in the future. Therefore, alternatives like these stimulation devices are useful. There are many selections to choose from, but it is necessary to buy one that is high quality for long-term use. An example is the iTENS from iTENS Australia which has Bluetooth capability. It can connect to a mobile app that is easy to navigate for further convenience.

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