NMES vs. TENS: Which Unit Is Best for Your Back Pain?
When it comes to NMES vs. TENS, both use small electrical stimulations to affect your body. They differ in:
1. What those signals are targeting
2. What they are trying to do
TENS therapy uses electrical stimulation to target the nervous system, sending signals to disrupt and block pain signals.
NMES therapy uses electrical stimulation to target muscle groups, causing them to contract and relax in a controlled setting. This helps muscles stay active, grow stronger, and combat atrophy. Because of this systematic contraction, NMES can help tight muscles relax and improve blood flow to the targeted area, relieving pain and reducing injury recovery times.
Find out more about the different forms of electronic stimulation and the pros and cons of using NMES vs. TENS for back pain.
What Are Other Types of Electrical Stimulation?
TENS and NMES therapy aren’t the only forms of electrical stimulation therapy. They are the most common because anyone can use them. But here are some of the less common forms of electrical stimulation therapy and how they help people regain mobility and strength.
Functional electrical stimulation (FES) applies mild electrical stimulation to muscles to help them move better after nerve damage caused by conditions like MS.
Because of the damage to the nervous system, neurological messages from your brain can no longer correctly travel to and from the targeted muscle groups. FES provides an external signal that triggers muscle movement and helps patients regain some of their lost mobility.
EMG-triggered stimulation (ETS) is used specifically for people recovering from a stroke. It detects extremely small electrical EMG signals in paralyzed muscles to initiate electrical stimulation and movement. By using ETS, paralyzed stroke patients can regain some mobility and function.
Reciprocal EMG-triggered stimulation (RETS) is intended for patients unable to relax spastic muscles. Rather than using electrical stimulation to trigger a contraction in the muscle group, RETS helps relax spastic muscles. Like ETS, RETS helps previously paralyzed and low-mobility patients regain functionality and movement.
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) therapy can help strengthen targeted muscle groups, improve blood flow, and reduce recovery times.
What Is NMES?
NMES therapy uses a low-frequency current to stimulate muscles, causing them to contract. This helps improve and maintain muscle strength and endurance. It can also reduce swelling and pain in the targeted muscles.
What Is NMES Used For?
NMES therapy is used to strengthen and maintain muscles. Anyone who has had to stay inactive for an extended period can benefit from using an NMES device.
The device sends electrical signals to muscle groups, creating artificial exercises. This targeted treatment helps your body relax and reduces pain from injuries.
Because NMES can help safely strengthen targeted muscle groups, it contracts deep lumbar stabilization muscles. These deep tissues are vital to keeping your back healthy. By strengthening them, you can significantly reduce lower back pain caused by poor posture and help strengthen the necessary muscles to prevent future injuries.
Pros of Using NMES
- Keep Muscles Active During Bedrest - Bedrest doesn’t mean you have to lose muscle strength. Because NMES therapy forces muscles to contract, you can maintain and even improve your muscle strength without overextending and risking additional injuries.
- Improve Muscle Strength - NMES therapy directly stimulates muscles, causing them to contract. When used consistently, this can increase your overall body strength. An NMES device doesn’t replace a regular exercise routine, but it can help improve muscle strength, which can improve mobility and flexibility and help prevent future injuries.
- Reduce Recovery Time from Injuries - NMES therapy increases vascularity and helps improve blood flow to the targeted area. Because blood helps transfer important vitamins and nutrients to your muscles while also transporting away waste, improved blood circulation can help reduce injury recovery time.
- Improve Mobility - Mobility and strength are closely related and must be balanced. You are at a greater risk of injury if you have too much mobility but not enough strength or too much strength without mobility.
- Promote Safe Healing - Sprains, tears, and injuries create weak points in your body that are more prone to future injuries. NMES therapy allows your body to heal and retain strength and mobility without aggravating existing injuries or creating new ones.
- Provides Lasting Pain Relief - Rather than just numbing the pain, NMES therapy helps strengthen muscle groups, providing you with the lasting strength to reduce pain over time.
- Reduce Muscle Spasms - NMES therapy safely controls muscle groups with electrical impulses, telling each muscle when it should contract. This can help normalize spasming muscles, helping them relax.
Cons of Using NMES
Side Effects - Some common side effects of using an NMES device include:
- Muscle spasms
- Redness and irritation in the treated area
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit is a battery-operated device that treats and relieves acute pain. Find out more about the pros and cons of TENS therapy and how it can be used to reduce back and neck pain.
What Is TENS?
TENS therapy is a treatment that can help relieve chronic pain. TENS targets the nervous system and sends low-voltage electrical currents to stimulate the sensory nerves. The external stimuli from the TENS unit disrupt and block pain transmissions and help block or modify the perception of pain.
An easier way to understand TENS therapy is to think of your nervous system as a roadway that travels throughout your body. For example, when you sprain your ankle, the information starts at your injury, travels through your nervous system to your brain, and then your brain translates that information into pain.
TENS therapy acts as a complete roadblock in that neural pathway, letting no information through, or it can act like a traffic jam, allowing only a little bit of information through and reducing the amount of pain.
What Is TENS Used For?
TENS therapy is usually recommended for acute and chronic pain. It can be used to help treat:
- Period pain
- Labor pain
- Joint pain
- Sports injuries
- Lower back pain
- Neck pain
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Post-surgical pain
TENS therapy is not recommended for anyone with an implantable device like a pacemaker or for people who have any of the following conditions:
- Heart problems
- A bleeding disorder
Pros of Using TENS
TENS therapy is a powerful standalone treatment or can be used as part of a pain management program. Here are some of the most significant benefits of using TENS therapy.
- Control - You can control and adjust TENS therapy's intensity, frequency, and duration at any time. There is no reason for TENS therapy to feel overwhelming or painful because you can adjust it to meet your comfort levels.
- Medication Reduction - By using TENS therapy, some people can reduce their need for prescription and over-the-counter pain medications.
- Convenience - Most TENS units are small and portable. You can use them at any time throughout the day, no matter where you are located, to help you get pain relief without interrupting your life.
- Limited Risk - TENS therapy is noninvasive and comes with minimal side effects. Occasionally, some people will develop skin irritation in the treated area, especially where the TENS device is applied to the skin. However, there are hypoallergenic pads available to help those with sensitive skin.
- Usage - TENS therapy can be used multiple times daily without adverse effects.
Cons of Using TENS
TENS therapy isn’t always the best solution depending on the intensity and location of your pain. Here are some of the biggest cons to using a TENS unit.
- Effectiveness - TENS therapy isn’t effective for all types of pain, and there is some variation between patients. It may help one patient but not another, despite their similar pain.
- Tolerance - Some signs show that a person can build up a tolerance to TENS therapy, making the treatment less effective.
- Discomfort - TENS therapy can cause a buzzing, prickling, or tingling sensation. For some people, the discomfort of the treatment isn’t worth the temporary pain relief it provides.
- Temporary Relief - TENS therapy is not a long-term solution and only provides temporary relief from pain for up to four hours. The therapy only provides brief relief from pain; it doesn’t help improve recovery times, strengthen against future injuries, or set the patient up for long-term success. TENS devices are safe and can be used as often as you’d like. But for some patients, this means using the device for 30-60 minutes four times a day.
What Is the Difference Between NMES and TENS?
NMES is different from TENS because of the nerve groups it targets. TENS targets the sensory nerves, the receptors for pain signals. The TENS process disrupts reception and helps reduce a patient’s pain.
NMES uses electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to target muscle tissue. This electrical signal to the muscles is similar to the signal your brain sends to muscles when you’re moving or working out and forces muscle groups to contract and relax. NMES devices target both slow and fast muscle groups with various settings and frequencies.
Can TENS Be Used for NMES?
A TENS device only targets the surface tissues to numb acute pain, while NMES targets deeper tissues to help strengthen and relax muscle tissues. Because they target different areas for different purposes, it is impossible to use a TENS device to achieve the results of an NMES device.
What Is NMES Good For?
NMES is best used for enhancing and activating muscle groups. It prevents disuse while muscles heal after an injury and helps increase muscle strength.
This means NMES is best used to maintain or improve muscle mass in a controlled environment without adding unnecessary strain or injury to the muscle tissue or surrounding areas.
What Is the Difference Between EMS and NMES?
There is no difference between electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) and neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES). NMES is an EMS device that targets the same muscles and provides the same benefits.
Which Device Type Is Right for You?
With various devices, the right device for you depends on what you are experiencing and what you are looking to achieve. NMES devices are best for strengthening and relaxing your muscles.
An NMES device doesn’t just cover up or numb the pain—it strengthens and directly treats your muscles to help improve recovery times and prevent future injuries.
Get Started with NeuroMD Today
NeuroMD offers one of the best NMES devices on the market, with results backed by clinical proof.
The independent studies discovered that NMES devices like the NeuroMD Corrective Therapy Device® for Back Pain can provide “significant improvements” in muscle group performance and that “NMES has an important role to play in Chronic Lower Back Pain rehabilitation.”
Research shows that NMES therapy is “a safe and acceptable intervention...to improve physical function in older adults with chronic LBP [lower back pain].”
NeuroMD is currently available on sale for 50% off. Contact us today to learn more about NeuroMD’s back pain relief device.