What Is TENS/EMS Therapy, and How Does It Work?

What Is TENS/EMS Therapy, and How Does It Work?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

History of Electrical Stimulation Therapy

Using electrical current for pain relief actually has a surprisingly long history. As far back as 500 BC, ancient Egyptians discovered that certain fish emitted electrical impulses and could be used to help ease pain. In ancient Rome, around 60 BC, Julius Caesar’s physician recommended stepping on electrical fish for the same effect. Benjamin Franklin studied the idea (minus the fish) in the 1700s. Later, in the 19th and 20th centuries, researchers determined the exact electrical properties that generate muscle movement.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s that a safe and practical transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device was created by Dr. Clyde Norman Shealy. As the name suggests, TENS units stimulate nerves with mild electrical pulses that penetrate directly through the skin to temporarily relieve underlying pain.

Safety and Effectiveness

Because they use such low-wattage electrical impulses, properly applied TENS therapies are safe to use, even at home. Users may feel a slight warming or tingling sensation at the treatment site, but the session should be entirely painless, as long as the user doesn’t increase the intensity to uncomfortable levels.

For those suffering from back and shoulder pain, tendinitis, nerve pain, sports injuries, arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, menstrual pain, and more, this simple, safe, and effective technology offers much-needed relief that is natural and drug-free.

Electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) operates in a similar manner to TENS, but with stronger electric pulses targeted to specific muscle groups. The focus of EMS therapy isn’t pain relief, but the stimulation of muscle contractions that help strengthen and enhance healing, particularly after surgeries like ACL repair. Its well-documented effectiveness in these areas make it a popular therapy among athletes of all levels who are recovering from injuries.


TENS therapy provides the ability for those who suffer from many of the most common and chronic types of pain to enjoy temporary relief that begins in just minutes. The treatments are not only quick, but easy to apply and highly targeted. And for those who seek to decrease their dependence on pain medications, TENS can provide relief along with peace of mind.

EMS therapy helps muscles strengthen and heal after injury or surgery using a related technology that provides many of the same benefits. It’s a quick, easy, effective, highly targeted, and drug-free solution that is often incorporated into professional rehab programs.

TENS/EMS device on man's shoulders

TENS/EMS and Light Therapy

But why would dpl® Light Therapy offer TENS/EMS devices?

Red and infrared light therapy provide some of the same pain relief and regeneration benefits that TENS/EMS devices can provide, but through very different means.

While the treatment protocol for both are similar – basically, place the device over the treatment area, turn it on, and let it run for the allotted time – the technologies are quite different. Which provides an even greater advantage when they are used to complement each other.

Following the electrical nerve stimulation of TENS with the deep-penetrating cellular activation and enhanced blood-flow that red and infrared light therapy provides packs a unique one-two punch against pain.

Using the EMS setting on your device to electrically enhance muscle healing, followed by the cellular stimulation of red and infrared light combines both macro and micro approaches into a more holistic therapy to help injuries heal quicker.

Important Precautions

While TENS/EMS therapy can provide pain relief and healing, especially in combination with red and infrared therapy, it’s not for everyone, every pain, or every situation.

There are some areas of the body, conditions, and situations for which a TENS/EMS unit should not be used, including:

  • On the abdominal or pelvic areas when pregnant
  • On the head and eyes
  • Directly over the spine
  • Over cancerous tumors
  • Directly over open wounds or lesions
  • On the front of the neck or throat
  • Over the heart
  • Over metal implants
  • Over a pacemaker, defibrillator, or other medical implant
  • Those with heart disease, epilepsy, or certain bleeding and clotting disorders

Choosing a TENS/EMS Device

If you suffer from pain, or you’re looking for help healing and recovering after an injury (and you don’t have any disqualifying conditions), a TENS/EMS device could be an effective addition to your treatment regimen. But there are some key points to consider when choosing the right device for you.

Perhaps most importantly, look for a device that is FDA-cleared. TENS devices are relatively easy to manufacture (as medical devices go), which means there are lots of choices out there. FDA-clearance ensures the device you buy has been tested and is safe for use.

For maximum versatility and utility, you’ll probably want a device that can provide both TENS and EMS therapy. The technologies are so similar, you can find a unit that does both effectively. Even if you don’t need one or the other now, the extra capabilities may come in handy later on.

Try to choose a company with a long history in the medical device arena. You can have confidence that those companies will stand behind their products and be there when you need them.

And don’t forget that TENS/EMS devices are FSA eligible as medical pain-management devices. So those dollars you’ve already allocated for your medical expenses could be used to bring this easy and effective technology home with no extra out-of-pocket cost.

TENS/EMS Technology from a Name You Trust

If you’re reading this, you probably already know about the quality pain-relief light therapy product that dpl® has built its reputation on (and if you don’t, we welcome you to browse our selection of industry-leading devices).

Now, dpl® is bringing the same level of technical expertise and quality-first construction to this additional pain-relieving product line with our dpl® TENS/EMS Back Pain and dpl® TENS/EMS Joint Pain devices. Check them out to add another non-invasive and drug-free arrow to your pain-management quiver.

Calculate Shipping