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TENS for Costochondritis: How to Treat the Condition Using Electrotherapy

A newscaster reporting about TENS as a new pain relief

Inflammation in the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone characterises costochondritis. It can cause intense discomfort, making performing everyday activities difficult. The pain is similar to what people with heart disease experience, which can be concerning. Individuals can use Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS for costochondritis to reduce the symptoms. Electrotherapy manages the condition by stimulating the nerves with mild electric currents. It lessens pain perceptions as TENS blocks pain messages from travelling to the brain.

Having costochondritis can be alarming because its symptoms closely resemble those of a heart attack. The pain can radiate to the arms, shoulders, or back. People with the condition typically depend on interventions, such as pain medications and heating pads, to alleviate the discomfort. However, electrical stimulation therapy, like TENS, has been gaining popularity as an alternative pain management option. The article will present the technique, including its active mechanisms and proper application.

What is a TENS for Costochondritis?

TENS for costochondritis is a type of electrotherapy. Generally, medical professionals administer the therapy sessions. Nowadays, individuals can operate it without their supervision. They only need to buy a reliable TENS machine to lessen the symptoms associated with the health condition. The electrical nerve stimulation device comes with electrode pads that users attach to the pain site.

TENS is a 100% drug-free and non-invasive pain relief technique. A unit sends low-voltage electrical currents to the body. This can help alleviate both acute pain and chronic pain coming from costochondritis. Most, if not all, TENS machines are user-friendly. Hence, people can operate one at home, in the workplace, or while travelling. Nevertheless, they must use it with caution.

Users of TENS can utilise electrical stimulation alongside other treatments and remedies. These include breathing exercise programs and over-the-counter pain relievers. Combining these methods results in a comprehensive treatment plan. Consequently, patients can do their daily activities with less discomfort. Also, TENS reduces the symptoms of the medical condition.

Common Symptoms of Costochondritis

Some symptoms mimic the signs of a heart attack. However, the most common are the following:

  • Aching or sharp chest pain – This often worsens with movement or deep breathing.
  • Tenderness – The affected area may be tender to the touch or when pressure is applied.
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath – It may be painful to take deep breaths, or individuals may feel tightness in the chest.
  • Swelling – Inflammation of the costochondral joints can cause discomfort.
  • Pain that worsens with physical activities – An example is when people experience increased pain after lifting heavy objects.
  • Coughing – It can exacerbate the chest pain associated with costochondritis.

A TENS kit with refillable gel pad pack and necessary information

Active Mechanisms When Using a TENS for Costochondritis

When using TENS for costochondritis, the active mechanisms involve the transmission of low-voltage electrical currents through the skin to the underlying nerves. Subsequently, this relieves the affected area. According to the Pain Gate Control Theory, the electrical stimulation from the device can activate large-diameter nerve fibres, which can help close the pain gate and prevent pain messages from reaching the brain.

Additionally, TENS can promote the release of endorphins. These are natural pain-relieving chemicals the body produces. This mechanism induces feelings of pleasure and well-being. Moreover, endorphins can offer relaxation by reducing stress and anxiety. This can be beneficial for individuals suffering from costochondritis.

Another active mechanism of using TENS is its ability to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. The electrical stimulation can increase circulation and reduce swelling. As a result, this can contribute to the overall relief of symptoms. Targeting the underlying mechanisms of pain and inflammation causes TENS therapy to be an effective and non-invasive option for managing the discomfort associated with costochondritis.


One of the many benefits of TENS is the portable and convenient nature of the devices. Users can easily incorporate this into their daily routine, providing consistent and effective pain management. In addition, they can carry the unit inside their bags because it is lightweight. Consequently, they have immediate access to treatment for costochondritis.

Furthermore, TENS therapy is a non-invasive and drug-free option for managing symptoms. Unlike medication or invasive procedures, TENS machines do not come with the risk of side effects or complications. Also, people can use it for other types of pain like knee pain and musculoskeletal pain.

A person peeling the sheet from a TENS pad

How to Apply TENS for Costochondritis

Consult a doctor before applying TENS for costochondritis because its improper usage may make the pain worse. Also, prepare the skin and device by ensuring they are clean and dry. Then, remove the electrodes from the packaging and place them on the pain area. The positioning can be around the rib cage or along the sternum.

After attaching the electrode pads, turn the TENS device on. Start with a low-intensity and frequency setting to avoid sudden shocks. Users can gradually increase it as the session progresses. Monitor the response of the body to the treatment. If it makes the symptoms worse, seek medical attention immediately. Otherwise, use it continuously for 20-30 minutes.

Turn the machine off after completing the therapy. Use drops of warm water to clean the electrode pads. Gently pat them dry before storing them in a cool, dry place. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive substances, as they can damage the electrodes. Individuals can use the pads multiple times as long as they are still in good condition.

Electrode Placement Guide

Correctly placing the TENS electrodes is vital for maximum effectiveness. To treat costochondritis pain, position one pad on the front of the chest and the other on the back. This placement allows the electrical stimulation to penetrate the targeted area and provide relief.

Users can apply the electrode pads around the affected rib cage for rib pains, like in cases of costochondral strain. Avoid placing them over broken skin. This is because the electrical currents may cause further irritation or damage to the skin. Also, shaving excessive hair in the pain site is advisable, as hair can interfere with proper adhesion.


TENS for costochondritis is valuable because it can treat the condition without drugs or invasive procedures. A TENS unit consists of electrode pads that users place on the skin to deliver mild electrical currents. Subsequently, it effectively blocks pain signals and promotes the release of endorphins to alleviate symptoms. Moreover, TENS enhances blood flow. This can aid in the healing process of damaged tissues. Through electrical nerve stimulation, people can experience less discomfort while doing everyday activities.

Individuals need to attach the TENS electrodes to the affected area and adjust the settings to a comfortable level. Also, they must follow the instructions from a healthcare professional to prevent risks or complications. For instance, they advise placing the electrodes around the sternum or rib cage for costochondritis. Moreover, they recommend avoiding body parts with open wounds or broken skin. Overall, TENS is a safe treatment option that reduces the pain associated with this condition.

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