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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS vs EMS – Their Differences Explained

Man with leg pain in the beach

TENS vs EMS are two types of electrical stimulation therapy used to reduce pain and improve muscle conditions. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It targets the sensory nerves to block pain signals going to the brain. On the other hand, EMS is short for Electrical Muscle Stimulation. It uses strong electrical pulses to induce involuntary muscle contractions. This main difference helps determine the right device to use for physical therapy.

Many people experience pain and discomfort as a result of daily activities. Sitting in front of the computer all day or lifting heavy items can cause muscle strains and pain. To deal with this, doctors often prescribe physical therapy like exercise and massage. This helps people move better, reduce pain, and improve overall health. This article will present TENS and EMS roles in pain management and total well-being, including the device’s frequency and potential side effects.

TENS vs EMS – Definition and Functionality

TENS vs EMS may be similar in terms of using electrical stimulation, but they have different uses and purposes. For one, TENS uses low-voltage electrical signals to stimulate the nerves to minimise pain sensations. It works based on two main theories: Pain Gate Control and endorphin release. High pulse rates (50-120 Hz) induce the nerves to block the transmission of pain signals in the spinal cord.

The second mechanism of TENS is using low pulse rates (10 Hz and below) to prompt the production of endorphins. These hormones inhibit the nerve cells from sending pain messages. Thus, these two functions hinder the brain from processing pain. The TENS machine has adjustable levels to customise the settings.

Meanwhile, the main purpose of EMS is strengthening and toning the muscles that have become weak or injured. The device sends electrical impulses directly into the muscle tissue. Additionally, it utilises stronger currents than TENS to cause involuntary contractions in the muscles. These contractions mimic the natural motions of the muscles that occur during exercise.

Benefits of Electrotherapy

  • Pain management: TENS alleviates various types of conditions, such as joint pain, nerve pain, and musculoskeletal issues.
  • Increased blood circulation: electrotherapy can improve blood flow to the target area, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.
  • Muscle recovery: EMS improves muscle strength and endurance and prevents muscle atrophy or the thinning of muscle mass.
  • Improved mobility: TENS or EMS targets specific muscles and joints, increasing flexibility and the range of motion, reducing the risk of side effects.
  • Non-invasive and drug-free: electrical stimulation offers a non-intrusive and natural approach to pain relief.
  • Customisable treatmentelectrotherapy machines can be adjusted to suit individual needs.

Using four TENS pads in the leg

TENS vs EMS – Frequency and Levels of Intensity

TENS vs EMS have varying frequency and intensity levels. Frequency is the number of pulses per second. The higher the voltage, the stronger the stimulation will be. TENS usually has a lower frequency of up to 120 Hz. This is ideal for targeting the nerves to provide pain relief. Users may adjust the frequency between 10 Hz and below for endorphin release.

In contrast, EMS generally has a higher frequency of up to 800 Hz. This is suitable for muscle stimulation, enabling stronger contractions. The current output should also be adjusted depending on body size, type of pain, or condition of the muscles. Some devices have pre-set modes for a target body area or specific health condition. These have fixed frequencies and pulse width for convenient use.

The intensity is the level of current sent through the body, measured in mA (milliamperes). TENS machines usually offer a wider range of intensity levels compared to EMS. This is because TENS therapy focuses on providing tailored relief, and different individuals may require different levels of stimulation.

General Operation Guidelines

To ensure proper and safe operation, users should start by following the instructions provided in the user manual. Place the electrodes on clean and dry skin. For TENS, position the pads on either side of the pain or around the joints. For EMS, place the pads directly on key muscle groups.

Once the pads are securely in place, turn on the machine and adjust the frequency settings. Start at the lowest level and gradually increase the intensity until the electrical currents feel strong but comfortable. A single treatment lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. After the session, turn off the unit and remove the electrodes.

Refill pads in small size

TENS vs EMS – Potential Side Effects and How to Counter Them

Some side effects may occur when using electrotherapy machines. TENS vs EMS can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in certain individuals. This can range from mild redness and itching to more severe rashes or blisters. However, severe reactions are rare. When these occur, promptly remove the pads and wash the skin with warm water and gentle soap.

Moreover, users may experience slight tingling and warm sensations in the electrode site placement. For EMS, the device will cause visible muscle contractions. This is expected as the electric currents flow through the skin. Nevertheless, it should not cause further pain or discomfort. If the electrical charge is painful, check the settings and readjust accordingly.

In other cases, individuals may experience dizziness or nausea during electrotherapy. This is due to the constant flow of electricity through the body. To counter these side effects, always check the conditions of the electrodes before use, following proper pad placements and intensity levels. Also, take regular breaks for continuous therapy sessions.

When to Avoid Using the Devices

There are certain situations when it is advised to stop or avoid using electrical stimulators. Firstly, it is not suitable for individuals with heart conditions, epilepsy, implanted electronic devices, or pregnant women. Patients should consult a health professional before using TENS or EMS.

Secondly, the electrodes should not be placed over areas of the body with compromised or broken skin. The electrical stimulation may cause further damage or delay the healing process. Furthermore, do not use the machine if the electrode pads do not stick well. Lastly, it is crucial to seek medical attention if the pain worsens or the side effects persist.

Conclusion

The key differences between TENS vs EMS come down to purpose, output frequency, and intensity level. TENS has lower pulse rates and adjustable intensity levels to stimulate the nerves for pain regulation. This causes the nerves to block pain signals and release endorphins. On the other hand, EMS generates stronger currents to induce muscle contractions. This is ideal for muscle strengthening and re-education. These devices can also help improve poor blood circulation and increase mobility.

The TENS and EMS machines are portable and easy. They are also non-invasive and drug-free, reducing the risks of adverse reactions. However, these devices may have minimal side effects. Some users may experience redness or skin irritations. Others may feel dizziness or headaches. These symptoms quickly disappear after the session. In any case, individuals with medical conditions should consult their doctor before use. It is important to follow the operation guidelines to minimise potential risks and gain the best results.

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