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Zap It: TENS and EMS Therapy

Kevin Cleary

Our muscles work by receiving electrical impulses from our brain telling them to contract or relax. When they need a little help you can use electricity in a beneficial way. EMS therapy (electrical muscle stimulation) is a method of using external electrical impulses to trigger your muscles. It is also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation, but it uses the same principle of electrical signals to help your muscles fire. TENS therapy (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) can help with pain relief through the use of low-voltage electrical current. They seem similar, but they are completely different.

TENS versus EMS

Often these two methods can be confused for each other. While both use electrical impulses, a TENS unit is designed for pain relief where as an EMS unit is designed for muscle stimulation. The electrical impulse that an EMS unit sends stimulates the nerves and produces a contraction in the targeted muscle. This mimics the actual electrical signals from your brain to stimulate your muscles like during regular exercise. When using an EMS unit during rehab, muscle tissue can be repaired quicker and speed up the healing process. Where an EMS unit uses an electrical current to contract muscles for rehab purposes, a TENS unit sends a current over the injured nerves and sends a signal to the brain that scrambles normal pain signals, according to The other popular theory is that the electrical stimulation of the nerves tricks the body into producing natural painkillers called endorphins. Both can use different wavelength frequencies so any therapy can be designed specifically for the user.

EMS Units

For those that need electric muscle stimulation for rehab purposes, knowing how they work can be a helpful tidbit. By putting two stimulation pads on the affected area, a circuit is created to allow an electrical impulse to travel from one pad to the other through your body and make your muscles contract and then relax. For example, the ReliaMed Digital EMS Dual Channel Unit utilizes asymmetrical, biphasic, and square pulse waves. With numerous adjustments, you can tailor your rehab to what is comfortable to you. One way to combat muscle atrophy is through the use of EMS, such as the BioMedical EMS 2000 Electrical Neuromuscular Stimulator. It uses dual channels and adjustable ramp on times varying from 0-2 seconds and has three stimulation patterns (constant, reciprocating, and cycled). The ramp on time determines how long it takes to get to full power to contract your muscles. After an injury this can be a great tool in the arsenal to fight back during rehab.

Bilt-Rite Dual Channel EMS Unit
Bilt-Rite Dual Channel EMS Unit

TENS Units

One way to deal with pain is through the use of a TENS unit. In dealing with pain that can be chronic or acute, the BioMedical Impulse 3000 TENS Unit features three modes that include constant, width modulation, and burst. It has a sliding cover for safety so no settings get inadvertently changed and a belt clip to take it with you for comfort and convenience. The Drive Medical Dual Channel 5 Mode TENS Unit utilizes 2 strength duration modes and five modes of wave delivery. You can opt for normal, burst, and three different modulation modes. You can choose from asymmetrical, bi-phase, or square pulse waveforms. One option is the Omron Pain Relief Pro Electro Therapy Pain Relief TENS Unit which has five preset pain modes as well as three different massage settings (tap, knead , rub). These target the most common trouble areas while having 10 levels of intensity so you can personalize your experience. Manage your pain instead of letting it rule your life!!

Medline Digital TENS Units
Medline Digital TENS Units

Combination Units

Many manufacturers offer the benefits of EMS therapy in the same unit that can handle your pain. Combination EMS/TENS unit can be convenient and economical. For example, the ReliaMed Digital TENS and EMS Combination Unit is a digital, portable electrotherapy unit. It has seven different modes to handle just about any need. Another way to relieve chronic intractable pain and prevent muscle atrophy at the same time is with the Body Med 2 Channel Digital TENS/EMS/IF Device. Whether it’s reducing muscle spasms or preventing disuse atrophy, it’s all here for you. It offers five different TENS modes and three different EMS modes and offers many adjustable parameters. Whatever your need, you can turn to it for all your therapy needs.

BodyMed Digital Dual Channel TENS and EMS Combo Unit
BodyMed Digital Dual Channel TENS and EMS Combo Unit

For two therapies that are similar, they do have some significant differences. You can work with your physical therapist to determine which one is right for your situation. With some of the portable units you can even have your therapy at the beach, not bad huh?


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HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Hi there, my name is Kevin Cleary. I was born in Westchester County in 1966 on December 3. I lived there until 1973 when my family moved. I graduated from high school in 1984 and then attended college in New ...

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