Pain is a daily part of life and for people dealing with chronic pain, it’s a part of life that needs to be controlled. Managing that pain is often a common concern for many people and this article will look at two kinds of pain management, TENS and EMS, and how they differ from each other.

Pain can be an indicator that you are safe, healthy, or even alive!  

If you were to think of a world where pain didn’t exist, you’d be thinking of a very dangerous world where you wouldn’t have any indication of whether or not you were healthy or safe.

The presence of pain says one thing and one thing in particular — hey, you’re out of homeostasis, get back into it!

But what happens when you can’t just ‘remove’ the stimulus or correct the situation? What happens when pain moves into the realm of recovery and it needs to be managed so that it doesn’t impede your daily life?

There are lots of answers to this question and the first step for everyone is to seek true medical expertise and guidance from your healthcare provider. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn about how pain works and what options are out there.

For a lot of people, the concept of going onto medication for pain relief can inspire a certain level of uneasiness or fear – or even having a lack of medical insurance can prohibit some individuals from pursuing medical counsel. This creates a growing need for over-the-counter products that can help improve daily life and ease challenges associated with chronic and acute pain.

Hempvana has a dedicated inventory of over-the-counter products that can service a wide array of needs within these parameters. 

What is Pain?

A good first step on this journey is to familiarize yourself with what pain is and how our bodies recognize it. A general understanding of this can help you not only understand what is happening in your situation but then help you find the products that would best suit your health goals.

Right out the gate let’s agree that pain itself is hard to understand. It can come from a myriad of different locations in the body, and it can even come from places we are still trying to define.

An international study that realized the complexity of pain and the challenge of categorizing it once gave it the general definition of “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.”

What we can talk about is how our body is split into two systems of interpreting the world around us, the central and peripheral nervous systems.

The central nervous system is complex and comprises two main parts: the brain and the spinal cord.

The second part of the nervous system isn’t too hard to conceptualize (even though it’s equally as complex to understand as the central) and that’s because the peripheral nervous system is anything that isn’t the brain and spinal cord.

This basic understanding of the two parts of what make up our nervous system is a foundational concept for understanding the difference between TENS and EMS as a valid form of pain mitigation or management.

 So, let’s take a deeper look before we dive into those specific differences.


Receptors Are the Nervous System’s Way of Communicating to the Outside World

Our nervous system is a hugely complex, extremely detailed system that helps us do everything from kissing our loved ones goodbye to learning new skills like driving a car or braiding hair.

In order to interact with the world, we need a way of communication between the outside world and our nervous system – and that would best be represented by our receptors

Our bodies house many, many different kinds of neurons including a variety of specific sensory neurons. These neurons help send signals and are influenced by the outside world through the peripheral nervous system up to the spinal cord.

These sensory neurons are typically put into five classes:

  • Mechanoreceptors
  • Chemoreceptors
  • Thermoreceptors
  • Nociceptors
  • Electromagnetic receptors

 These five classes represent all the many ways that we can perceive the world around us. Thermoreceptors help us understand the temperature and indicate when we need to pull that fuzzy sweater out of storage or when we definitely should have worn shorts instead of pants to the cookout.

Mechanoreceptors comprise multiple receptors that help us interpret the chemical world around us from tentatively smelling that carton of milk to see if it’s gone bad to enjoying your favorite beer at the beginning of the weekend.

Nociceptors are the class that helps us understand pain. These sensors send signals up through the peripheral nervous system and into the central nervous system.

These signals traveling up to the brain (our control center) are called afferent signals and they are the ones responsible for altering your brain when you step on a Lego with your bare feet.

TENS and EMS Have Similarities but Different Targets  

Well, before we talk about how TENS and EMS not only fit into this system of pain perception and modulation, we need to first define them.

 TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation; EMS stands for Electrical Muscle Stimulation. From the titles alone we can begin to perceive clues as to not only their differences but also their uses.  

Both TENS and EMS are actually very similar.

Both of them are therapeutic options for dealing with pain and helping ease its symptoms. Both utilize similar equipment and have a power source (typically a battery) that connects to electrodes that are placed directly on the skin of the patient.

Both rely on the same idea of pulsating a wave of energy through the electrodes from the power source to the area of concern.

So how are they different? Well, for starters, it’s more in their effect on the localized area of the body. 

TENS, as its name implies, travels through the skin and hits a different target than EMS. EMS mostly focuses on the muscle associated with the pain while TENS typically focuses on the neuron associated with the pain.

What this breaks down to further is that TENS is more of a chronic pain reliever while EMS is more suited for acute pain or fitness-directed pain.

How Does TENS Target Make It Unique 

This is why we spent time learning/refreshing ourselves over the basics of the nervous system! Remember how we have neurons running through our entire body and those neurons are grouped first into two major systems – the Central and Peripheral nervous systems?

The peripheral nervous system represents everything that isn’t the brain and spinal cord, so it acts as the delivery system of ‘sensation’ while the central nervous system receives and interprets those signals into their proper category.

These sensory neurons are defined into five major categories and pain receptors are the category associated with discomfort.

We feel pain through these sensors. The signal is traveling from the source, through the peripheral up to the central nervous center and ultimately the brain where the signal is interpreted as discomfort and you are made aware of it. 

This process right here is where TENS comes into play and differentiates significantly from EMS. TENS sends out a signal that you could think of as a competing signal with the pain signal.

his means that it acts as a sort of gate, closing off or overriding the signal that the brain would have interpreted as pain.  

This kind of pain treatment is in contrast to EMS which focuses on tensing and relaxing specific muscles. It is typically used for acute situations or athletics to not only stave off soreness but also to build up muscle tissue and fight down redness and swelling.  

Even though TENS typically appeals to the person looking for some kind of answer to a more chronic pain relief it can be used for any aches and pains that are associated with daily rhythms.

TENS Pen for Better Pain Management 

The team at Hempvana has worked hard to produce a new kind of TENS delivery system inside a signature, easy-to-carry pen. This device is perfect for taking with you to work, school or fun on the town. It fits easily in your bag and because it’s wireless you can easily use it in a variety of different problem areas.

For more information, check out the products that Hempvana has developed to help you on your journey to pain alleviation and management!