How to Choose the Best TENS and EMS Units

Perhaps one of the most innovative methods of helping to relieve nerve, joint, and muscular pain is through the use of TENS and EMS units. TENS and EMS units are a popular method of pain relief, offering safe, effective, and drug-free relief from a variety of musculoskeletal pain. 

Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) devices offer pain relief by delivering an electrical impulse directly to the area that hurts by simple adhesive electrodes. These electrical impulses signal the nerve endings to promote the release of endorphins and “reset” the pain signals in that region of the body. By “reset,” we mean that the nerve endings are stimulated in such a way that the pain signals are lost for a time in the electrical impulse.

EMS, or Electric Muscle Stimulation devices, operate very similarly to TENS devices. Just as with TENS devices, EMS devices send an electrical impulse through electrodes that adhere to the surface of the skin. However, the key difference is that the electrical impulses delivered during EMS cause muscle contractions rather than affecting pain signals. The muscle contraction caused by EMS is effective in helping to treat swelling and inflammation, which can be crucial in treating injuries or pain at the joints, in particular.

Naturally, many customers find themselves wondering which device is right for their specific needs? For this reason, we’ll walk you through some of the most important features and benefits to consider when shopping, and then recommend a few of the most popular models from our catalog to make choosing the right device to fit your life an absolute piece of cake.

Which device is right for me?

EMS and TENS devices have slight differences that make them ideal for different types of patients. Because it provides an electrical impulse that promotes muscle contraction (thereby helping relieve swelling and inflammation), EMS devices are well-suited for patients who suffer from muscle-associated conditions. These may include muscle spasms, muscle atrophy resulting from injury or lack of use, poor blood circulation (particularly in the limbs), or to recover from musculoskeletal injury. 

TENS units, on the other hand, do not cause muscle contraction, which makes them ideal for treating a wider variety of pain that may or may not be muscular. TENS can be useful in relieving pain resulting from tendonitis/bursitis, wound healing, surgery, cancer-related pains, or chronic pain. Interestingly, TENS can also be used as an alternative, drug-free method of controlling pain during labor and delivery.

One of the most important steps in determining which treatment method is the best for you is to discuss your options with your primary care doctor or your physical therapist. These healthcare professionals can help you determine which device would best suit your needs, as well as how often you should use the device. 

In some cases, a healthcare professional may suggest using a combination of both treatment types. This recommendation is not uncommon for treating musculoskeletal injuries, particularly those at the joints. In fact, this combined method of treatment is common enough that many products, such as the PM-720 Digital TENS/EMS Combo by ProMed Specialties, are designed to provide both types of electrical stimulation to patients.

What features should I look for?

Naturally, there are a number of things to consider when purchasing an EMS or TENS unit. Certain features may make some units better for treating one patient’s needs than another’s, so it’s important to consider all of your options, making sure to pick the one that functions best in the role that you need it for.

Intensity Controls

Most EMS and TENS devices will offer a range of strengths to determine the intensity of the electrical stimulation. Patients can then decide which level is the best for helping relieve their pain. However, the range offered by each device may differ, and it is therefore recommended that customers review the range of each product when making a purchase. Also, when discussing an EMS or TENS device with your physician or physical therapist, consider asking what current level would be best for relieving your pain.

Treatment Time

EMS and TENS devices often include predefined treatment times during which they offer relief and then automatically stop when the treatment time is complete. For example, many devices have a 30 minute run time for a full treatment. If you need a longer or shorter treatment time, it may be important to consider the devices options before making your final purchase. To determine the amount of treatment time that is best for your condition, you may need to consult with a physician.

Channels and Connections

Channels are the term used to discuss the number of available outlets for your lead wires to be connected. Typically a single ‘lead’ or wire extending from the device will include two connections for electrodes, so a single channel device allows you to use two electrodes at a time, a dual channel allows you to use either two or four, and so on. 

Depending upon the area you need to treat, having more or fewer leads can be important to make sure the entire area is addressed. For example, to treat a wider area - on the back, for instance - more leads may be better, while fewer leads will be needed for treating a smaller area like the knee.

Battery or Rechargeable

Another important working feature for both TENS and EMS units is the way it is powered. Battery-powered devices are less expensive initially and have the added convenience of no charging time, while rechargeable devices are often pricier initially but save you the cost and hassle of having to replace batteries over time. Ultimately, however, the power source is a personal choice mostly based on your lifestyle and which option you feel would be more convenient for your needs.

Size and Weight

While it may seem obvious, one commonly overlooked consideration regarding EMS and TENS devices is their size and weight. The size and weight of devices can vary depending on a number of factors, such as its battery size, for instance. Because of this, it is important to review the size of a device to ensure that you will be able to transport it easily if needed.

Combo Units

In addition to choosing between either TENS or EMS therapy, many patients find it beneficial to combine both of these modalities, sometimes along with even more options for an all-encompassing pain relief solution. Because of this, many units are available that include both EMS and TENS capabilities, so if this is something that may benefit you, a combination unit might be the right choice.

Recommendations

TENS Units

EMS Units

Combo Units

Summary

TENS and EMS units are both devices that use electrical stimulation to relieve pain, however, they differ in that EMS units deliver impulses that cause muscle contractions, while TENS units use impulses to block pain signals from the brain. Both modalities can be used to treat a range of conditions, but EMS tends to be better for relieving inflammation and swelling in the muscles and joints, while TENS can be used for pain relief specifically on any part of the body. 

Finding the best EMS unit or TENS device for you or your loved one may seem like a challenge. Fortunately, Rehabmart features a diverse selection of devices from trusted medical equipment manufacturers such as BeWellConnectProMed Specialties, Chattanooga, Fabrication Enterprises, and Roscoe Medical. So whether you are considering your options or making a purchase, visit Rehabmart.com to find the best product for you. 

Author:

Megan has been a part of Rehabmart since its inception nearly 20 years ago. For the past several years she has been enjoying her role as HR Director while maintaining her Physical Therapy license. When she isn't working on her next in-service or working to find a new team member, she enjoys her five children, helping those who have PT type ailments, baking, practicing yoga, and working out.

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