TENS or EMS, What's the difference? Which one do I need?

TENS vs EMS: What’s The Difference?

I get asked this question 2 or 3 times a week, so I decided to post another Blog to help clarify any misinformation. 

If you’re shopping for a TENS Device, you might have noticed EMS devices also popping up in the results.

TENS and EMS deliver low voltage electrical impulses to stimulate nerves. However their uses are quite different.

Below you’ll discover the differences between TENS and EMS, to help find the stimulation device that’s right for you:

TENS and EMS units are both e-stim devices, but they don’t work in the same way.

The function of a TENS unit is to stimulate the sensory nerve endings. The rationale being that this stimulation keeps pain signals from reaching the brain.

EMS Devices cause muscles to contract, rather than impacting on pain signals. This makes them more effective for muscle building and rehabilitation.

Should I choose a TENS or an EMS unit?

We feel that choosing the TENS/EMS Combo is right decision, as it will meet all your needs with one Device, which makes it simple and less confusing.

Before choosing which device is right for you, you should first ask yourself, what are you hoping to gain?

For example if you’re suffering with discomfort in your lower back, then a TENS device would be best. That’s because it would interrupt those pain signals being sent from your back to your brain.

If you need to build muscle, to improve your athletic performance, then an EMS unit would be better. The muscle contractions that happen when you use the unit can help to build strength and tone.

Some conditions would benefit from both TENS and EMS, for example if you were recovering from a muscle injury. EMS could help to speed up your rehabilitation, while TENS therapy might be useful for helping you cope with the associated pain.


What is a TENS unit?

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. The device emits a stimulating pulse that awakens the nerves, and blocks pain signals from being sent to the brain.

What is a TENS unit used for?

  • Back Pain
  • Migraines
  • Labor
  • Arthritis
  • Depression

You’ll be amazed at the different conditions TENS machines can treat, all backed up by science.

What is an EMS unit?

EMS Devices are effective for muscle building, as strength is developed through the process of the muscles contracting then relaxing.

Here are a number of ways this repetitive motion can help the body:

  • Muscle Strengthening
  • Muscle Rehabilitation
  • Relief from Muscle Cramps
  • Improving Athletic Performance
  • Accelerated Recovery from Injury
  • Retraining Muscles
  • Reducing Spasticity, caused by Stroke, ABI, TBI, MS, or ALS
  • Maintain or Increase Range Of Motion or ROM, which is critical post Stroke.
  • Muscle re-education

EMS also has some surprising benefits, including reducing snoring!

Below are some practical uses of EMS for Stroke Survivors:

 Electrode Placement for foot drop - YouTube

Electrode placement : Wrist and Finger extension - YouTube

Should I choose a TENS / EMS combo unit?

You might notice when trying to find the perfect TENS or EMS machine, that a number of units offer both therapies.

They do tend to cost a little more, but you get both the pain relief and muscle building advantages.

For example, if you’re someone that loves working out and wants to improve their performance, you can make the most of the EMS function.

However if you’re also someone who will then suffer for your workout the next day, through back or neck pain, the features of a TENS machine will be beneficial.

There are many units out there to choose from, if you live in Canada, the Phase-5 TENS + EMS Combo – JGH Rehab  is one to consider. We found it offers great features and power, at a very competitive price, comes in a Hard Cover Plastic Case, 2 lead wires, 4pk of 2"x2" clothback electrodes and is powered by a simple 9 volt battery, (included) made right here in Canada, and Health Canada Approved.  I use the Phase 5 as part of my Stroke Rehab Program.

As an added BONUS, get your Phase 5 Combo at JGH Rehab and use coupon code TENS/EMS, at checkout and receive 15% off!!  Coupon code works for both the Phase 5 and Electrodes.  Offer ends November 30, 2021, so get yours today! 


If you live in the United States or live in the UK then the SaeboStim Pro Electrical Stimulation Device for Stroke Recovery | Saebo.   In the US, use coupon code TREAT21, which will give you 10% off until October 31st.

SaeboStim Pro - Electrode Pad Placement - YouTube