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TENS vs PEMF Therapy: What Are the Differences?

April 8, 2024

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Chronic pain is physically and mentally exhausting. It not only impacts your work and daily activities, it also erodes happiness and well-being. Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain, with few options available to manage their condition. Besides surgery and medication, two of the most popular treatments are Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy, which rely on electromagnetic energy to relieve acute and persistent discomfort. Each technique has its own particular strengths, which ought to be taken into account by anyone considering TENS vs PEMF.



TENS manages pain by inducing electrical changes in the body, while PEMF alters electrically charged particles within your cells. Though seemingly similar, the goal of each approach is fundamentally different. TENS treats pain as a symptom. PEMF treats pain at its source.


What is TENS Therapy?

TENS operates according to the “gate control” theory of pain. In 1965, a pair of researchers (Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall) discovered the human body contains two types of nerve fibers: large and small. Pain is transmitted over small nerve fibers, while sensations regarding movement, pressure, and touch are transmitted over large ones.

Contrary to what many believe, our brains do not process all the information absorbed by our nervous system. Our neurological receptors actively select which signals to process and which to ignore. For instance, when our fight or flight response is activated, our brains often block painful stimuli until we’ve escaped to safety. Because electrical signals travel faster over thick nerve fibers, Melzack and Wall theorized that the brain would prioritize them over signals sent over small fibers. This is why rubbing a bruised elbow makes us feel better. Stimulating large fibers blocks pain signals.

When a patient receives TENS, electrodes attached to their skin deliver electrical impulses directly to their nerves. This sudden surge of energy overrides pain signals. At the same time, the current stimulates production of dopamine and endorphins ‒ the body’s natural painkillers.

As a result, patients receiving TENS not only report less pain, but also a greater sense of well-being and relaxation. But while TENS provides quick relief from acute and chronic pain, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and muscle strain, its effects rarely last longer than 24 hours. In some cases, pain returns as soon as the unit is switched off. Fortunately, TENS devices are designed for use at home as well as clinical settings, allowing patients suffering from serious pain to seek relief at all hours of the day and night.


What is PEMF Therapy?

Unlike TENS, PEMF doesn’t block pain. Instead, it combines with the body’s natural magnetic fields to stimulate the healing process. Cells communicate through bioelectric signals. Exposure to magnetic fields creates pressure on the electrically charged particles (ions) inside and outside cell membranes, forcing them to circulate at an accelerated rate. This produces downstream effects on cellular regeneration, metabolism, and respiration, the process by which glucose is converted into energy.

During PEMF therapy, magnetic waves are applied through a coil that is placed or fitted snugly over the body. Once the device is activated, current flows through the conductive material inside, generating a magnetic field. Reducing power at specific intervals creates pulses that penetrate deep into human tissue, intensifying cellular activity in the target area ‒ healing the body from the inside out.


Is PEMF Better Than TENS?

Studies have shown that PEMF therapy shortens recovery time, reduces inflammation, and helps alleviate painful conditions such as arthritis, lumbago, and sciatica. Relief is quick, but not immediate. Though patients who undergo PEMF generally report greater pain reduction than patients who receive TENS, it’s generally not noticeable until they’ve completed two or three sessions. What’s more, by strengthening bones, muscles, and other tissues, PEMF alleviates pain for weeks, unlike TENS. In some cases, the pain never returns at all. It’s a long-term solution that repairs and regenerates damaged organs in order to promote health and improve quality of life.


Find Relief with Aura Wellness

When answering the question of TENS vs PEMF, determining which is the right course of treatment depends on the needs and goals of the patient. TENS provides immediate but temporary pain relief, while PEMF initiates healing and provides more lasting comfort. Consult your doctor or contact a local PEMF practitioner for help deciding which treatment is right for you.

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