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The Difference Between TENS & EMS

Has your physio discussed the use of TENS or EMS devices? Or has a friend or family member mentioned the amazing results they had with one of the electrical treatments?

TENS and EMS devices are a popular and effective treatment for a variety of conditions. Although, they are often incorrectly mistaken to be the same device. While both utilise an electrical current, they actually have different uses and unique treatment capabilities.

In this article, we explain the differences between TENS and EMS, helping you to decipher which is right for you.


TENS: What is it and what does it treat?

A TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit is primarily used for pain relief for nerve, muscle or joint pain. When activated, the device stimulates sensory nerve endings with a mild electrical current, stopping pain signals from reaching the brain. They can be used to relieve pain signals in chronic and acute pain. TENS treatment may be effective for symptoms of:

  Back or neck pain

  Foot, leg and knee pain


  Carpal Tunnel syndrome

  Multiple Sclerosis


  Labour pain

For some sufferers of chronic pain, the TENS device offers unmatched pain relief. After using the TENS device, the effects can last up to 24 hours but typically last between five minutes to 18 hours depending on the patient. The electrical impulses may cause mild tingling, buzzing or mild sensation, but the application of the treatment does not cause pain.


EMS: What is it and what does it treat?

An EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) device causes the muscles to contract and is used in rehabilitation and muscle pain relief. The mild electrical stimulation causes the muscles to relax or strengthen and is particularly useful in cases of poor blood circulation, muscle spasm or for injury rehabilitation.

Functions of an EMS device include:

  Rehabilitation, including enhancing athlete recovery.

  Muscle-strengthening or relaxing.

  Improving local blood circulation.

  Inhibiting disuse muscle atrophy.

  Muscle toning for cosmetic purposes.


Which device is right for you?

TENS and EMS units have different purposes and are used to treat different conditions. If you want to enhance recovery and promote muscle condition, then EMS might be right for you. But if you are seeking back pain relief, TENS would be a more suitable treatment.


Visit your physio for tailored assessment, diagnosis and treatment

Your physio is an expert in the musculoskeletal system and can identify the best treatment options for your condition. Whether it be the use of a TENS or EMS device or another physical therapy, your physio can create a customised treatment plan for optimal recovery.

You can visit the NDPE team in West Ryde by booking online or using our other contact options.

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Northern Districts Physiotherapy

Northern Districts Physiotherapy & Sports Clinic was established in 1995 and consists of an energetic team of highly qualified and experienced professionals who take the time to understand ...


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