TENS vs EMS: understanding the differences

TENS Units and EMS devices are becoming a popular way to relieve pain and treat muscle fatigue.  But what is the difference between the two? TENS and EMS devices are similar, but they do vary slightly.  Here is more information on the differences between TENS and EMS units.

What does TENS stand for?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

What does EMS stand for?

Electrical muscle stimulation

The similarity between TENS and EMS:

Both deliver low voltage electric impulses to stimulate

TENS vs EMS: the main difference between the two:

  • TENS stimulates the nerves
  • EMS causes the muscles to contract

What is TENS used for?


The relief of chronic and acute pain. Some examples include:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Foot pain
  • Labor pain
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sciatica

What is EMS used for?

  • Muscle strengthening
  • Rehabilitation purposes
  • Preventing disuse muscle atrophy
  • Increasing local blood circulation
  • Relaxation of muscles
  • Cosmetic muscle toning

TENS vs EMS: which is right for me?

The two machines have completely different purposes so it’s imperative that you choose the correct device.

If you’re looking to build muscle as part of a training program then a TENS unit is not going to be suitable for you. Likewise, if you are seeking some relief from chronic back pain – an EMS unit might not be the best choice for you.

TENS EMS combination devices

There are a number of combination machines on the market that offer both TENS and EMS.

You can get the best of both worlds with a combination device. While these machines may require a larger initial investment, they are highly versatile.

tens ems
tens ems

HealthmateForever T24AB2 TOUCH SCREEN TENS EMS combination device


HealthmateForever TOUCH SCREEN TS8 TENS EMS combination device

An example of somebody who could benefit from a TENS EMS combination unit is an active sportsperson who works at a desk and suffers from lower back pain.

They would be able to use the TENS function to relieve their back pain and the EMS could be used to help strengthen their muscles as part of their training program.

A combination unit would be a desirable alternative for anybody who wants to use both TENS and EMS. It means they only need purchase a single device, versus two separate ones.

The other advantage of having a single device is portability. People who like to take their machine on vacation, when they’re away on a business trip, visiting friends, etc. only have to carry one device.

Purchasing a TENS or EMS unit

While some TENS and EMS units are prescription only, there are many versions that can be bought over-the-counter (OTC). It is however recommended that people consult with a medical professional before using one and make sure it’s suitable for them.

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