Have you heard about TENS? What about EMS? Apparently, those are two of the leading pain-relieving technologies widely used in the management of the chronic disease.
But there are many questions lies about effectiveness, reliability and safety of those two technologies and the standard of the TENS and EMS devices for pain relief currently available for consumers.
In this article, we will be answering the doubts and have an in-depth review of TENS and EMS devices for pain. The TENS vs EMS Selection Guide will take you through the core aspects of the devices you should consider before buying one for your specific pain management needs.
Let’s start rolling with some background information about TENS and EMS.
What is TENS?
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a pain reliever’s technique that uses electric current. TENS includes transmitting small lower-voltage electrical impulses into a particular nerve through electrodes glued to the body to modify signals from nerve cells (neurons) and to prevent pain signals from getting to the brain.
A TENS unit can help to manage the following conditions;
It may also help control pains that are caused by the following diseases;
spinal cord injury, and
painful diabetic neuropathy.
Tip: TENS for sciatica is being used for years as a popular approach.
TENS unit comes with a control that allows users to administer the level of pain relief that is required.
Commonly, the following attributes of a TENS machine can be adjusted.
- Intensity: The user is allowed to adjust the stimulation intensity
- Frequency: This helps to control the flow of electrical pulses per second.
- Duration: This allows to control the time that the current flows into your body during each pulse.
What is EMS?
Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) is the technique designed for muscle stimulation, also using electrical current for a perfect result.
EMS includes sending small, lower-voltage electrical impulses into the muscles through electrodes glued to the body to achieve the contraction of the muscles.
Muscles contraction has two different aims,
- firstly, it is to alleviate inflammation, and then
- secondly, to strengthen the muscles without the effect of the nervous system.
This is painless and without fatigue. EMS can help to strengthen the weak muscles.
One of the most important to note is that, when the muscle is maximally contracted, only about 30% of all the muscle fiber will be affected. The remainder 70% of the muscle fibers that are left, remain idle. But with EMS, these idle fibers can be stimulated (as well) electrically to enhance their strength and elasticity.
EMS seems more effective when the muscles fibers are weak, and the user finds it difficult to perform a regular move or exercise.
TENS vs. EMS – Differences and Similarities
Let’s look into similarities and differences between TENS and EMS technologies.
Similarities of TENS and EMS devices
- Both TENS and EMS delivers the electrical stimulation through electrode pads attached to the body.
- The microcontroller of the device digitally regulates the frequency, duration, and intensity of the stimulation.
- Both outer devices look almost the same, and some devices can render the two stimulation types.
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) uses low and high-frequency current pulses within a small range of about 100 mA, while EMS (Electrical Muscles Stimulation) uses pulse cycles that cause contraction and relaxation of the muscle from 1 to 130 mA at various intensities.
- Impulse cycles of the EMS primarily decrease inflammation while improving the flow of muscle blood. In contrast, TENS units are mainly for the management of pain. EMS units strengthen previously weak muscle and reverse muscle atrophy too.
Difference between TENS and EMS devices
Now, let’s explore the differences between the TENS and EMS.
- The main difference between the TENS unit and EMS unit is that both are designed for two different purposes. TENS is designed to stimulate nerves while EMS is designed to stimulate muscle cells.
- EMS device electrical muscle stimulation induces contraction of the muscle, while TENS nerve stimulation works to relax the muscle and stop the pain.
- Also, TENS likely to provide instant pain relief, but EMS is not as effective as TENS in stopping the pain.
- Again, most TENS devices offer a broad range of signals in terms of intensities, frequency, and pulses, while EMS devices a slimmer function in this regard.
Let’s dig deeper into the safety and effectiveness of TENS and EMS as a pain reliever. And, their effects on pains.
Effect on pains (TENS vs. EMS)
Both TENS and EMS relieve pain with the use of an electrical current. Nevertheless, they were both designed for different purposes.
As noted earlier, a TENS device or a nerve stimulator function by conveying small electrical impulses into the body through the electrodes glued on the skin to stimulate the cause of the pain. TENS device operates in three ways;
- It improves blood circulation
- It stops the pain signed from getting to the brain
- It stimulates endorphins production (Natural painkillers)
An EMS device operates in almost the same way as TENS. It also functions by conveying small electrical impulses into the body through the electrodes glued on the skin, but this time, directly to the muscles, causing contraction. The muscles repeatedly contract and relaxes – which improves blood circulation.
Not only that, but EMS also provides the following effects.
- Minimize inflammation
- Relax the muscle
- Stimulate the growth of muscle
- Prevents muscle atrophy (wasting)
The TENS device is used for relieving nerve, joint or muscle pain, which is mostly ‘chronic’ in nature. They are in several forms, including back pain, inflammatory arthritis, childbirth contraction, leg and foot pain or even post-operative pain.
Tip: You must differentiate any isolated back pain from kidney pain.
Tip: Depending on the location of the leg pain, the cause of it can be different. We previously covered the causes of groin pain, upper leg pain, calf pain, back of the leg pain and nighttime leg pain.
An EMS device at the other end is used for strengthening or relaxing the muscles.
E.g. in cases of poor blood circulation, muscular spasm, muscle atrophy.
Both are recommended more often for muscle pain relief. Athletes use EMS for quick recovery from an injury, as electrical stimulation of the muscle will help them without strain to rebuild muscle.
How to choose a good TENS unit
TENS devices come in many sizes, features, and shapes. The choices can be overwhelming, confusing and frustrating, especially when you are buying it for the very first time.
While considering the basic choice of TENS device for home, here are some essential things to put in check.
Some types of pain only respond to some electronic modes or pulses. Based on that fundamental, there is a need to be sure that the device has several modes, especially when considering how-end models.
Remember, a TENS device with several options can create an enjoyable experience. Multiple options make the device more useful.
- Battery life
A high-quality TENS unit that operates on a lithium battery is always a better choice. It can serve for a week or up to a month before it will require a recharge. It will also save you from the stress of changing dead batteries constantly.
- The number of electronics pads
The number of electronic pads determines the body areas it will be able to cover. A unit with multiple channel output is a better choice as it will be able to cover various areas of injuries or pain.
- Power level
A good unit, feels intense but should not harm you; the highest level of many low-priced TENS devices may not still be enough to offer the expected result. To be able to enjoy a preferred intensity, it is advisable to get a wide range of power TENS unit.
- Life of the TENS pad
Good electrode pads can last for several months, even while being used daily. Replacement pads of the lowest-priced wear out quickly and require frequent replacement.
The choice of an expensive pad whose durability is certain is far better than the low in priced pads that wear out easily and can’t stand the test of time.
How to choose a good EMS unit
Like noted for TENS, there are things to look out for when trying to purchase an EMS unit.
Some features make some EMS devices more beneficial than others. It is, therefore, advisable for you to carefully consider all the below options to be able to make the right choice.
- Size and weight
Some certain factors can make the size and weight of the device to vary, perhaps things like the battery size. Base on this, it is always advisable to review the weight and size of a unit to make sure it can be portable and pleasant use (practical).
- Treatment time
EMS units always have treatment time that is predefined within the time they provide relief and stop automatically after completing the treatment. Some units full treatment run time is 30 minutes, so it is very important to consider the unit full treatment run time, be it shorter or longer treatment time, before buying.
- Channels and connections
The numbers of the channels determine the numbers of the lead wires used on the unit.
A unit with a single channel allows the use of two electrodes while a device with a dual-channel enables the use of more electrodes.
Having fewer or more lead is important to be able to treat the affected area depending on the treatment required area. For example, more lead is better when treating a large area while a few numbers of lead is necessary for treating a small area.
- Combo units.
Many users find combining both EMS and TENS modalities benefiting. Base on this, many available units have both TENS and EMS capabilities. These combinations unit will be a good choice if it is profitable.
Popular TENS Devices
Balego TENS 7000
This unit is very portable. It has a plastic case for easy carriage and doesn’t cost much.
One of the numerous advantages of this device is its massage is very effective. It has a double output feature which enables the use of four electrodes pads at once, and all the electrodes will receive enough strength for muscle stimulation.
Also, Balego TENS 7000 device has a good quality lead wires, and with this device, it is very easy to position the electrode pads on any parts of the body because of how long the length of the wire is.
HealthmateForever TENS Units
This is an FDA-cleared device, which is conceivably the most preferred model available currently on the sale.
The reason is that this model has four outputs and allows up to eight electrode pads at the same time. One outstanding fact about this device is that each pair of electrode pads can be regulated separately.
HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS provides an amazing massage as it is allowed to personalize the massage experience.
Furthermore, this model can bring about a quality mixed massage program, as every program is explicitly designed to handle a particular part of the body.
This appears to be the best TENS device on the market because of its great value.
Popular Combo TENS and EMS devices
FDA TENS Unit and EMS Combination Muscle Stimulator with 2 Channels
This muscle stimulator device is the best option for people who are on the lookout for an easy to use and low-cost product.
FDA TENS EMS is a double channel unit that allows two electrodes to be attached at the same time. It has an enormous screen display that accommodates many indications, setting for intensity adjustment and twelve in-built programs that supply various types of exercise.
This unit is FDA approved and also very portable.
Flamidoc TENS and EMS Combo Dual Channel Electronic Muscle Stimulator
This unit is designed in a simple and compact form.
Flamidoc TENS and EMS Combo Dual Channel Electronic Muscle Stimulator can easily be fitted in a pocket, a double-channel stimulator that allows up to four electrodes that work in pairs to be attached. Famidoc device has many buttons on it that empowers the control of the level of intensity and frequency. The unit is powered by 3 AAA batteries.
Welby TENS EMS massage device
We are currently reviewing the Let us know if you have any questions about this product.
The Best TENS devices
Here are some best home-use TENS units.
Easy@Home professional grade TENS unit
This easy @ home TENS unit model has a double output that allows the use of up to 4 electrode pads at the moment. That means it can massage different groups of muscles at the same moment.
Easy @ home professional grade TENS unit provides 8 massage modes. Three of them help to personalize experience and 5 are predefined.
Also, it allows the extension of every massage period up to 120 minutes compared to the 60 minutes other models provide.
Hi-dow TENS unit Massager
This is among the best available models today in the market.
HiDow TENS unit Massager provides a sophisticated variety of bio-electrical signals aimed to stimulate your muscles.
It also allows the use of up to 4 electrode pads because of its double output design.
Again, this model has 12 massage-combinations predefined to stimulate the various part of the body.
This is also an FDA-cleared unit.
Hi-Dow ACUXP Micro Physical TENS unit
This model helps with muscle recovery and pain relief.
HiDow ACUXP Micro Physical TENS unit provides 8 options for massage, and it can be alternated to gain more benefits. This model comes with a good battery that can easily last for 50 hours of use, and it is compact and lightweight. That makes it portable.
AccuMed AP212 Portable TENS unit
This model provides 16 massage modes. All the modes stimulate the muscle differently, and alternating the modes can give a better result. Despite the slim appearance of this device, it can produce a pleasant massage.
NURSAL Rechargeable Tens Unit
This model has a wonderful design and also provides 16 massage modes.
This design comes with 8 pairs of electrode pads. Every pair of the electrode pads has different design and size. The larger pad will be able to work on a group of muscles while the small pairs specifically targeted to reach muscles.
The Best EMS devices
Belmint Electrical Muscle Stimulator
This muscle stimulator model is a good choice for home use. It is an effective and cheap model that can work for a reasonable time.
Belmint Electrical muscle stimulator can directly be powered with a 6 volt adapter or with the use of 4 AAA batteries.
This device has varied predefined programs and adjustable intensity and frequency.
One striking fact about this device model is that the electrodes work better without gel applied to the skin.
Easy @Home Electronic Muscles Stimulator
This is one of the leading brands. It is both decent and quite cheap for home use.
The device features large buttons that are readable and understandable and also a small screen that displays information.
Easy @Home Electronic Muscles Stimulator operates with 4 electrodes same time, and it is powered with 4 AAA batteries. With its compact form, it can be easily carried around and used anywhere.
Ohuhu rechargeable Electronic Muscle Stimulator
This model of the electrical stimulator has all the essential features and very simple.
It is approved by the FDA with adjustable intensity and frequency.
Ohuhu rechargeable Electronic Muscle Stimulator comes with spare electrodes and also features predefined programs. This unit is quite cheap and suitable for home use.
SUMGOTT Muscle Stimulator
This model of muscle stimulator is simple with a large L.C.D screen.
SUMGOTT Muscle Stimulator device operates with 4 separate electrodes and has 16 predefined programs. It also features adjustable strength levels.
To make it easier, this unit treatment can be regulated from 10 to 60 minutes.
Compex Edge Muscle Stimulator
This device has a large L.C.D screen with very simple options, both in programs and control buttons.
Its 4 electrodes can be connected at once and the frequency and intensity adjusted separately.
Compex Edge Muscle Stimulator is battery-powered, and it comes with spare electrodes.
Massage Therapy Concepts EMS Combination Stimulator
This unit is considered the best FDA Approved EMS Unit for Pain Management.
Massage therapy concepts EMS Combination Stimulator unit has a large screen for excellent display and very portable.
It has the features of both EMS and TENS with stimulation settings for professional-grade.
The device has two-channel output and allows the intensity levels to be regulated separately.
It has also a very respectable quality with 12 programs and the choice of 20 various intensity settings. It also features auto shut down, adjustable timer and comes with 4 electrode pads.
The Best TENS and EMS Combo Units
Aus physio TENS EMS Machine Massage
This device operates the ultimate technology and a unique feature known as Auto Modulating pain relieving waves.
Aus physio TENS EMS Machine has the inbuilt technologies of both TENS and EMS.
Four pad massage system of Aus Physio can be utilized on more than 20 separate areas of the body and can help with hip pain, knee pain, leg pain, wrist pain, shoulder tension, sore feet, neck pain, etc.
The program anti-assimilation technology in the device keeps the body from being overstimulated by one pattern of frequency. This is important so that your body will not get used to just one type of massage frequency, through that offering an effective and long-lasting pain relief.
Pain Away Pro Muscle Stimulator and TENS Unit
This Drives Pain Away Pro with Heat is a wireless TENS device that works with remote control. Pain Away Pro Muscle Stimulator and TENS Unit provides adequate heat therapy combined with electrical stimulation for pain management and symptomatic relief rendering the desired comfort to an individual.
This device is a drug-free, quick and safe way to manage discomfort in the waist, shoulder, back, arm, neck, and legs.
Tenstim TENS EMS Combo Unit
Two of the wonderful features of Tenstim are its large LCD screen and backlight display. The backlight helps when using it at night, and the LCD also helps for easy readability.
Tenstim TENS EMS Combo Unit features 2D intensity regulators and 12 therapeutic modes such as crapping, kneading
Another striking feature of this device is the “Foot Massage” mode. But the massage slippers need to be purchased separately in other to enjoy this feature.
There is no more buying of batteries with this device because it uses a lithium rechargeable battery.
Another amazing part of this device is its ear clip. According to the description of the product “by stimulating the ear, you effectively stimulate various parts of your nerves and muscles and relaxes your body.”
It’s a quite expensive unit, but with all its features it’s a good one to go for.
Pure Enrichment Pure Pulse Duo
This product is designed with 25 intensity levels, 8 TENS modes, and 6 EMS modes.
The LCD is small, but it is not difficult to locate the modes with the buttons and easy to read.
Pure Enrichment Pure Pulse Duo has two bigger butterfly electrode pads and two smaller ones.
It is powered with 3 AAA batteries and can run for about 35-40 hours before replacement.
Users are being provided with online videos from the manufacturer’s website for any guidance.
NURSAL Touch Screen
This device has a wide touch screen and works with an Android or iPhone, with 20 intensity levels and 8 modes.
NURSAL Touch Screen also provides a backlight for night use. Nursal TENS and EMS comes with 4 pairs of electrode pads, with inbuilt lithium battery and uses standard 3.5mm snap on the electrode pads.
The Nursal touch screen TENS EMS is a better choice when considering a TENS/EMS combo device.
Tip: If you have long-term leg pain related to diabetes, it would be advisable to use a pressure-relieving heel protector.