Difference between PEMFs (Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields) vs TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

PEMF therapy devices use pulsed electromagnetic fields to stimulate an electrical charge in the body that promotes healing.  There are many different machines available for PEMF therapy, and there are machines that are similar, but not quite the same.  It can be quite confusing to sort out the differences between PEMF devices and other electrotherapy and electrical stimulation (e-stim) devices. Primarily, it is important to understand the difference between PEMFs vs. TENs. There are indeed similarities, but the way each is applied, how that impacts the way the therapy interacts with the body, and even the primary purpose of each type of machine is quite different.

PEMF devices use pulsed electromagnetic fields, while TENS units use electric currents. Electrical currents will stimulate nerve activity, but PEMFs impact both the brain and the tissues in the body at the cellular level.  These effects mean that the healing offered by PEMF therapy is deeper and pain management is more effective than what TENS units offer.

TENS units aren’t designed to promote actual healing; they are meant to help patients deal with pain.  The primary mechanism through which they do this is a distraction technique called the “gate control theory.”  The stimulation signals produced by the TENS unit confuses the brain, competing with the signals the pain source is sending out. It’s like if you have a headache, but you drop something heavy on your big toe.  You’ll forget about the headache for a while, while the pain from the toe overpowers the pain from the headache.  The problem with this distraction technique is that the benefits are usually quite brief.  When the distracting signal is no longer present, the pain signal can take over again.

PEMF therapy, on the other hand, is designed to repair the tissues.  They also offer pain relief for a longer duration, but that’s not the primary benefit — it’s a bonus! Healing the pain at its source is the real benefit, because when the root cause is healed, the pain is less likely to return.

TENS units are effective for pain (temporarily) but don’t do much to heal the source of that pain.  PEMFs provide pain relief but have a multitude of other health care applications as well and promote real healing.  For instance, research has demonstrated that PEMFs can speed the healing of wounds and bone fractures, have a positive impact on mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and improve quality of sleep.  And that’s just a few of the benefits beyond pain relief that PEMFs can provide.


A closer look at applications and mechanisms of PEMF therapy and TENS

The mechanisms that each type of therapy uses are complex, but in a nutshell, TENS stimulates nerves and activates the opioid system to change perception of pain, while PEMFs work at the mitochondrial level to repair cells and tissues. That’s why TENS units don’t impact actual healing – they simply manage the pain of the injury.

PEMF therapy manages pain, but is also effective for repairing damaged cells, neuron stimulation, calming inflammation, and helping to create new cells.  It does all that and manages pain – a good reason to choose PEMF therapy over TENS therapy!

Now let’s look at the convenience factor.  TENS units require direct contact with the skin, making them more difficult to use.  PEMF devices, on the other hand, can be used over light clothing which means you can use them in more settings.  For example, you could apply PEMF therapy at work in your cubicle, and even while driving.  That could be awkward with a TENS unit, depending on where you needed the applicator to be placed!

With TENS units, the electrodes must be placed in specific locations, and moved from one spot to another on the body.  This is time consuming and labor intensive.  PEMF devices come in a range of unique delivery options – chair pads, total body pads, smaller rings and paddles.  Many, like the FlexPulse™, are highly portable and easy to take with you when you’re on the go.  With all of these options, PEMF devices can target more of the body at the same time than a TENS unit can.

What other benefits does PEMF therapy offer?

Again, PEMFs have a wide range of benefits beyond the pain management that TENS units can provide.  Some of these may surprise you — PEMF therapy has an impact on more things than most people realize, including cancer management, insomnia, and weight loss. Here’s a brief look at some of those unique benefits.

Cancer management

Unpleasant side effects are often expected with cancer treatments, and these traditional treatments have low rates of total remission.  The use of PEMF therapy offers many potential benefits for cancer management.

Traditional cancer treatments are toxic to non-cancerous cells – so while they’re getting rid of the sick cells, they’re damaging healthy ones too!  PEMF therapy is non-invasive, safe, and won’t damage healthy cells.  PEMF therapy for cancer management has been tested in cellular and animal applications, and to a very small extent in human cancer.  Much more research is necessary, but the initial findings are positive, particularly when PEMFs are used in conjunction with other therapies.

Research conducted outside of living organisms (In vitro) has found that PEMFs slow the growth of cancerous cells and reduce tumor growth, among other findings. In vivo (within a living organism) research supports the claim that treated groups show a slower rate of tumor growth when compared to untreated control groups.


Here’s a surprising result that research has turned up: PEMF therapy has been found to be an effective treatment for multiple sleep difficulties, including insomnia. A 2012 double blind study found that within four weeks, 90% of participants felt relief — and 75% no longer experienced insomnia at all!

Sleep is so important to the healing process, and sleep promotes cellular regeneration, so this is a big deal.  PEMF therapy is easy, effective and convenient.  And in addition to resolving sleep disorders, PEMFs may have a healing effect on the underlying causes, such as depression, so the sleep issues may not come back.

Weight loss

PEMF therapy can have a positive impact on both fat reduction and weight loss as well.  The direct cell stimulation that PEMFs produce creates more energy, which then boosts metabolism, making fat loss easier.

Improved circulation and release of fatty acids from fat cells also impact weight loss – and PEMFs provide both of these therapeutic benefits.  When circulation improves, fat deposits are mobilized into the bloodstream and can be used as energy.

Reward centers in the brain and bacteria in the gut also play a role in weight loss.  The brain and the gut are intricately connected.  PEMF therapy stimulates those reward centers, which not only reduces cravings but changes the gut balance to a more symbiotic state, which makes weight loss easier.

PEMF safety factors

In addition to the benefits beyond pain management that PEMF therapy offers, which TENS units don’t, PEMF devices also have an impeccable safety record.

Animal research has revealed that eletrical stimulation above 20 Hz can have negative side effects.  Because TENS units are often set to greater than 50 Hz, use must be short term, and only for 30 to 60 minutes per day.

These rules for frequency don’t apply to PEMFs. They are safe at any frequency.  That means that PEMF therapy can be used for extended periods of time, several times per day.  Some can even be used continuously, such as overnight, which will prompt healing and quality sleep without any disruption to daily routines.

PEMFs have not shown any negative side effects when properly applied – unlike other conventional treatments for pain and other health conditions.  PEMFs pass completely through the body, so there is no risk of overdose like there is with pain medications.


Is PEMF therapy a better investment than TENS?

PEMF therapy and TENS therapy share some similarities, but the differences demonstrate why PEMF therapy may be a better investment in the long term.

PEMF devices are more convenient, don’t require direct skin contact, can be used more often, and promote healing, not just pain management.  PEMF devices are safe and have no known adverse side effects.

The capabilities beyond pain management is a top factor in making PEMF devices a better investment than TENS units.  With a TENS unit, which is only effective in dealing with pain, it may sit unused far more often than it’s being used.  PEMF devices can treat so many health concerns and can be used preventatively, meaning the unit will likely be used a lot more often.  And one unit can be shared with the whole family – so the return on investment is increased even further!  Even if you purchase a unit for a specific problem, the range of capabilities it offers make a PEMF device a solid investment.

The FlexPulse™ PEMF device is an affordable, convenient, powerful tool for long-term, effective PEMF therapy.  The ultra-light controller and PEMF pads make this device easy to carry, wear and use – anywhere!  The FlexPulse™ PEMF machine has 12 hours of continuous battery operation and offers intensities up to 200 Gauss.  The FlexPulse™ will deliver benefits such as quality sleep, pain reduction, quicker recovery, and a boost in disposable energy to regular users.  The affordable price and long term benefits make the FlexPulse™ an incredible investment in your health!


Jiang C, Zhang T, Yue F, Yi M, Gao D. Efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in the treatment of patients with chronic primary insomnia. Cell Biochem Biophys. 2013;67(1):169-173. [PubMed]

Pelka R, Jaenicke C, Gruenwald J. Impulse magnetic-field therapy for insomnia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Adv Ther. 2001;18(4):174-180. [PubMed]

Vadalà, M., Morales-Medina, J. C., Vallelunga, A., Palmieri, B., Laurino, C., & Iannitti, T. (). Mechanisms and therapeutic effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy in oncology. Cancer medicine, 5(11), 3128–3139. doi:10.1002/cam4.861

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