Differences in Electrotherapy : TENS, IF, MICRO, and EMS

Before discussing the differences in Electrotherapy, there needs to be a complete understanding of how it actually works. Electrotherapy is a frequently prescribed treatment modality with the ability to target a multitude of acute and chronic musculoskeletal aliments. Electrotherapy quite simply transfers a measured, safe electrical current from a power source device to the soft tissues of the body by the use of electrodes. Electrotherapy devices range from larger, more powerful clinical units which are intended for use in the clinician’s office, to the more compact portable units, which are handheld and typically intended for personal home use.

The therapeutic effects on the neuromuscular tissues of the body may be varied depending on the wavelength and frequency of the electrical impulse current applied to the desired, specific area of treatment.

There are four main types of therapeutic electrical current modalities:

  1. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

  2. Interferential Therapy (IF)

  3. Microcurrent Therapy (MICRO)

  4. Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)

Each type of electrotherapy serves a different purpose. It is imperative to use the proper type in order to address the symptoms associated with your patient’s diagnosis.

The first, and most popular, of the electrotherapy types is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS. TENS therapy transfers current through the skin to interact with the nervous system by interrupting peripheral pain pathway receptors leading to the brain resulting in the decrease of pain sensation received. While TENS should not be considered a cure for the cause of the pain, it does serve to ease pain discomfort during and oftentimes, for the entire duration of treatment. When applied optimally, the TENS current should feel robust, but not painful. TENS therapy provides the ability to relieve pain without the need for exposure to the potentially harmful side effects inherent in the use of other methods, such as narcotics.

Interferential Therapy, also known as IF, is the second type of Electrotherapy treatment. IF is similar to TENS in that it passes current through the skin to relieve pain. However, IF travels at a much higher frequency thus allowing it to penetrate deeper into the body tissues. It affords the ability to target pain that may reside in parts of the body that cannot be reached by the frequency produced by a TENS unit.

The third type of electrotherapy is called Microcurrent Therapy (MICRO). The current produced by MICRO mimics the current that is naturally produced by the body. This promotes the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) in the cells in and around the treatment area. It also increases blood flow causing treated cells to become more energetic and may, as a result, induce healing.

The last of the four main types of electrotherapy is called Electrical Muscle Stimulation, or EMS for short. Unlike the above types of electrotherapy, EMS sends pulsing current specifically to the muscle, causing it to periodically contract and relax. EMS can be used to deter muscle atrophy and improve muscle overall tone or treat conditions such as chronic or recurrent muscle spasms.

When applied appropriately as indicated, TENS, IF, MICRO, and EMS can be used to address and favorably affect a wide variety of neuromuscular conditions and symptoms. We hope that this article has provided useful information with regards to the differences between the types of electrotherapeutic modalities and their most appropriate clinical application. We invite you to take a moment and browse our selection of quality, portable TENS Units, IF Units, MICRO Units and EMS Units for your in-office or patient home use.