You are here: Home - Clinical Q & A - T.E.N.S vs. Muscle Stimulators. What is the difference?


T.E.N.S. stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.  The key here is the NERVE part.  TENS is a “pain blocker.”  The buzzing sensation is thought to block the pain signal from the nerve to where it is perceived in the brain as pain. T.E.N.S. units are also thought to aid in the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain fighting mechanism.

BioMed® 2000XLEMS 2000

NMES, E-Stim or Muscle Stim stands for Electrical Muscle Stimulation or NeuroMuscular Electrical Stimulation.  The key here is the waveform that it outputs is different than that of a T.E.N.S and it affects MUSCLE.  T.E.N.S. simply blocks pain where muscle stim targets muscle  to prevent retardation of muscular disuse atrophy, relaxation of muscle spasm, muscle reeducation, increasing range of motion, increasing local blood circulation, and as an immediate post surgical stimulation to prevent venous thrombosis.  In addition to having a different waveform, it also has what is called “Timing Options” including Ramp ON/OFF times, “ON/OFF” times and sometimes a “Delay.”

The ramp times are the amount of time that the unit takes in each cycle to ramp up to the maximum intensity.  The ON TIME is the time that the intensity is on in each cycle and the OFF Time is the amount of time the unit is off in each cycle.  The cycle repeats.  This causes a muscle to slowly reach contraction (RAMP ON), stay contracted for a short period of time (ON TIME), slowly release the contraction (RAMP OFF) and then rest before the cycle repeats (OFF TIME).  The timing options make it possible for the muscle stimulator to do a “pseudo exercise” for the weak muscle.

In conclusion T.E.N.S. units effect NERVE endings and are used for PAIN RELIEF.

Muscle stimulators affect MUSCLE and are used to rehabilitate muscle.

Each has a different waveform and the Muscle Stimulator has TIMING OPTIONS, whereas the T.E.N.S. does not.

Ask your doctor which modality is right for you!


  1. Hayley Donovan May 22, 2013 at 2:02 am · Reply

    Awesome post. Thanks for sharing. I really learned a lot from it. Keep it up.

  2. David Anderson October 7, 2015 at 11:27 am · Reply

    Thanks for sharing this post and giving clear view about both these products. In my family, my grandfather using both this machine and I’m always confused when I saw these machines. But after reading your post I completely understand both these products are very well. Thanks Cheers!

  3. Lisbeth Angeli May 1, 2016 at 1:56 pm · Reply

    Is there a machine that delivers BOTH?

  4. Elena July 23, 2016 at 2:24 am · Reply

    Thanks , I actually purchased the tens unit before I read your summary, now I know that I probably would fare better on the muscle stimulator. As my problem is muscle spasms

  5. D.H. April 1, 2017 at 1:17 pm · Reply

    I use TENS to relax tense muscles and it is very effective.

  6. Donavin Savella May 30, 2017 at 6:45 pm · Reply

    Sustained catastrophic incomplete spinal cord injury. What would be your professional recommendation for someone who suffers bilateral neurapthy pain and neurogenic muscular atrophy?

  7. KarenSteele July 14, 2017 at 1:32 am · Reply

    Thank you. I am confined to a wheelchair with idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. So I have a lot of pain, but I am noticing some muscle atrophy in my lower legs. I wanted to know the difference because I have used the neuromuscular stimulator in physical therapy. Now I know which ones to purchase. Thank you for this wonderful explanation.

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