TENS or EMS for Ankle Pain

TENS or EMS for ankle pain?

Spraining your ankle can be painful, so can ankle tendonitis. You may have hurt your ankle a while ago and you still have pain.  There are many ways to treat ankle pain.  Two methods that you might not hear about so often are TENS or EMS for ankle pain.

What are TENS and EMS?

TENS stands for Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy involves the use of low-voltage electric currents to treat pain. Electrodes or mediums for electricity to travel to the body, placed on the body at the site of pain deliver electricity that travels through the nerve fibers. The electric currents block the pain receptors from being sent from the nerves to the brain.

EMS stands for Electrical muscle stimulation

EMS (Electrical muscle stimulation) is often confused with TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), a common treatment used in physical therapy offices. It provides an electrical current at a specifically designed frequency to target motor nerves. These nerves activate the muscle to contract based on the amount of resistance applied through the device. The brain goes through a similar process when actual weights are lifted.

Both types of electric therapies deliver low voltage electric impulses to stimulate nerves or muscles.

TENS stimulates the nerves, with the idea being that the stimulation will disrupt the brain to receive the pain signals from the injured area.

EMS causes the muscles to contract, this mimics muscle movement caused by the nervous system.

Checkout this post about more information about what TENS and EMS are What is TENS and EMS

What is TENS used for?

TENS is used for the relief of chronic pain.  Some examples of where TENS can be used is:

  • Tendonitis
  • Foot Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Ankle Pain
  • Arthritis
  • Sciatica

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TENS Unit For ankle pain

If you would like to see some examples of TENS devices check this out from HealthMate Forever.

HealthmateForever T12AB
  • FEATURES - 12 preprogrammed massage-like modes: Tuina (Push & Pull), Acupuncture, Tapping, Guasha (Scraping), Cupping, Shiatus (Finger Press), Pressure, Back Pain, Deep Tissue Massage, Body Building, Body Building 2, and Combination; Adjustable 10-80 minute timer by pressing T button/ tapping the time indicator on the screen; 2 outputs allow 4 pads to be applied to the two different targeted areas; Rechargeable internal lithium battery - up to 10 hours of continuous use.
  • FEATURES - 2 outputs are isolated, so both channel A and B have the same 100% power, without reducing strength in half, press the A/B button to select channel A or B; 20 levels of adjustable intensity (strength) in channel A or channel B, you can use +/- button or tap the +/- indicator on the screen to increase/decrease intensity; Lock button; A pause button you can click in less than a second if an emergency happens; Easy to read animated large backlit LCD display.
  • EFFECTIVE - The advanced technology sends out multiple preset electrical therapeutic waves through the electrodes. These waves stimulate the combination of deep tissue pain relief techniques and various muscle movements, relieving muscle tension; this unit is portable, you can stimulate your nerves and muscles and relax your body-anytime anywhere; completely drug-free; the large LCD display with new featured backlight shows you at a glance exactly what you need for your targeted mode.
  • WHY CHOOSE US? - HealthmateForever is the #1 brand for the pain relief device, which has exceed 50 kinds of Tens Unit on Amazon; More than 10 thousand 5 stars customer reviews in all on Amazon; High quality - doctor recommended; Portable and easy to use; 100 percent drug-free; Safe and effective for home use (FDA cleared).

What is EMS used for?

EMS  is used for muscle strengthing and rehabilitation.  Here are some other uses for EMS:

  • Muscle strenghting
  • Rehab
  • Increasing blood flow to injured areas
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Muscle Toning

EMS unit For ankle pain

If you would like to see some examples of EMS devices check out these devices from Compex.

Compex Edge Muscle Stimulator
  • With 3 programs to choose from, you can achieve peak performance and fitness with virtually no cardiovascular fatigue
  • Resistance program builds muscle size, strength and density; Optimal for toning muscles
  • Active Recovery program helps clear lactic acid and enables a faster recovery from muscle soreness and fatigue
  • Endurance program increases muscle capillarization and increases flexibility; Targets slow-twitch muscle fibers
  • One set of 4 Easy Snap Electrode lead wires and 2 different sizes of Easy Snap Electrodes are also included


Which is right for me TENS or EMS?

The two types of machines are completely different.  EMS is meant for muscle growth, so it may not be suitable for you if you are having an issue with chronic ankle pain.  While TENS is meant for pain relief so while it might help your chronic ankle pain, it will do nothing to build the muscles in the ankle.

What if you need both TENS and EMS for your ankle pain?

Luckily there are many combination devices as well on the market. You can get both the benefits or EMS and TENS in one convenient package. This machines, however, are not inexpensive, but they are highly versatile. Below is an example:

iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit
  • 2 in 1: iReliev TENS + EMS Combination Unit Combines Two Therapies in 1 device.
  • 14 Therapy Modes: 7 TENS Pain Relief Modes, 1 Arthritis TENS Mode & 6 EMS Muscle Strength & Recovery Modes
  • Features: 25 levels of 80 mA intensity, 5-60 minute adjustable timer, lock function, dual channel versatility, portable design!

Someone who might benefit from this type of device is a runner who might be suffering from chronic ankle pain.

They could use the TENS function to relieve the ankle pain and the EMS could be used to strengthen the muscles in the ankle and foot as part of their running program.

A combination unit can be desirable for anyone who wants to use both TENS and EMS.  It means the individual only needs to purchase one device, versus two separate devices.

The other major advantage of having a singular device is portability.  With a single device, you can take the device on vacation, business trips or when visiting loved ones.  If you suffer from chronic pain, being able to have the device with you can be a great advantage.

How to place the electrodes?

For ankle pain, use two electrode pads for each ankle area and place them around the strongest point of pain, whether that be up into the calf muscle or around the ankle joint. Place pads sticky side down at least two inches apart and arrange the pads vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

Check out this pictographic from iReliev.

Risks of TENS/EMS

The most important thing to remember about using a TENS or EMS device is that you need to know how to properly use it.  If you don’t know how to properly use the device you could risk injury.  There are usually no typical side effects of using a TENS or EMS device.  Correctly used these devices can provide pain relief and muscle stimulation. It is also important to remember that if you have an implanted defibrillator-pacemaker, epilepsy, or are pregnant you should not use these devices.

Can You Recover?

For most individuals, TENS offers instant and prolonged pain relief.  Some have permanent pain relief after just a few uses of the devices.  For others, it may take a longer period of time to see relief using a TENS device.

For those using EMS devices, they more than likely will see muscle rehabilitation and stimulation that is non-invasive, while protecting your joints.  Which results in a faster restoration of muscular balance.


TENS, EMS, or both?

Both of these devices should be helpful for your ankle pain.  It really depends on what you are looking for.  If you simply have pain, then using TENS device will be more beneficial.   In my case where there is pain and my muscles have become increasingly weak due to continued injury,  you might benefit from an EMS device or even a combo TENS/EMS device. If you are having ankle sprain pain which you might think would benefit from a TENS or EMS device, it is important to see a doctor for a checkup.  You deserve to feel better and get back to your day-to-day activities.  With the right care and treatment plan, you will be back on health feet in no time.


Other Help My Foot Pain resources:


Cleveland Clinic trans cutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens

Compex Muscle Stimulation

Simple TENS vs EMS: Understand The Differences (Quickly)



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