TENS vs. EMS

author : AMSSM
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A discussion about Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation vs. Electromyostimulation (muscle stimulation)

Member Question:


I have a couple of questions about TENS or EMS units. (home use devices)


First off what is the difference between the two? From what I have read is that one is used for pain management, the other for muscle stimulation but they both seem to function the same by applying an electric pulse through electrodes attached to the skin surface.

Can one of these units be used for muscle therapy to treat tight muscles or increase blood circulation to a specific muscle area?
 
Answer from Robert C. Oh, MD, MPH, CAQSM
Member AMSSM

TENS stands for Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation while EMS stands for Electromyostimulation. Both of these units use electrical currents to stimulate either nerves (TENS) or muscle (EMS), respectively. TENS units, if turned up high enough, can stimulate the nerves to contract the muscles, but technically this is not the point of TENS. TENS, through nerve stimulation, is intended to modulate pain and help with chronic pain. Most commonly, TENS units is utilized in chronic low back pain, and right now most of the research is equivocal, and its effect debatable. (1) In all essence, these units are relatively affordable and if people get a benefit for pain, it’s reasonable to give it a try in conjunction with exercise therapy and in partnership with your physician.

EMS is technically used to stimulate a muscle to grow. It has been used in rehabilitation, especially in injuries where muscles need additional stimulation beyond normal therapy. EMS generally targets specific muscle groups and stimulates them to fire and contract. Interestingly, there are recent studies that suggest that EMS could potentially improve athletic performance. (2,3) However, this is still experimental and I would not recommend this concept for the typical amateur tri-athlete. Plus, EMS units are typically more expensive than a TENS unit.


Now let’s get back to your specific question. Likely, both of TENS and EMS can “increase blood circulation”, but if you really want to treat “tight muscles,” or help your recovery, the tried and true way is appropriate rest (which includes adequate sleep for muscle recovery). Also take a look at your training cycle to ensure you are not overdoing it. Also, if you have tight or sore muscles, dynamic warm ups can increase blood flow naturally and without the fancy gadgets.   Finally if you want to speed up recovery after a tough work out, try cold water immersion (cold water baths).   (4




References
1.        Khadilkar A, Odebiyi DO, Brosseau L, Wells GA. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) versus placebo for chronic low-back pain. Brosseau L, ed. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(4):CD003008. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003008.pub3.
2.        Filipovic A, Kleinöder H, Dörmann U, Mester J. Electromyostimulation—A Systematic Review of the Effects of Different Electromyostimulation Methods on Selected Strength Parameters in Trained and Elite Athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(9):2600-2614. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823f2cd1.
3.        Silinskas V, Grunovas A, Stanislovaitiene J, Buliuolis A, Trinkunas E, Poderys J. Effect Of Electrical Myostimulation On The Function Of Lower Leg Muscles. J Strength Cond Res. 2016:1. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001594.
4.        Versey NG, Halson SL, Dawson BT. Water Immersion Recovery for Athletes: Effect on Exercise Performance and Practical Recommendations. Sport Med. 2013;43(11):1101-1130. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0063-8.
 

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date: March 31, 2017

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The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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