Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Many people suffer unnecessarily every day due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Symptoms include pain in the neck, shoulder, and arms with numbness in the arms and fingers also occurring.
There are three subcategories of thoracic outlet syndrome;

The first involved compression of the nerves in the brachial plexus, the second involves compression of the subclavian artery and other blood vessels, and the third has no specific source identified as the cause of the symptoms.

Due to pressure on blood vessels caused by the condition, some patients may also have cold extremities and even bluish discoloration of the fingers or hands. There is usually no clear observable cause for these symptoms, making patients understandably concerned and anxious to get a prompt diagnosis. Unfortunately many sufferers do not get a quick diagnosis and may be misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, rotator cuff injury, cervical spinal stenosis or arthritis, multiple sclerosis, complex regional pain syndrome, or even tumors of the spinal cord.

In many sufferers the syndrome may be alleviated by simple physical therapy and medication. X-rays, MRI or CT scans usually highlight the problem if it is connected to the presence of an ‘extra’, cervical, rib or other structural anomaly putting pressure on the tissues in or around the thoracic outlet. Patients may find that their symptoms are exacerbated when lifting weights (or as the muscles grow larger), trauma to the area, inflammation, or simply raising their arm. Diagnosis takes the form of physical tests, such as applying pressure to the thoracic region, arm lifts, and scans such as x-rays to detect the presence of anomalous growths or pressure on the area.

How TOS is treated

Treatment will usually involve surgery if the presence of a cervical rib is felt to be causing the compression in the area. The muscles attaching to the cervical rib will also be removed to free up space for the nerves and blood vessels. Other anomalous structural defects can cause thoracic outlet syndrome, such as osteophyte growth, ligament calcification, and extensive muscle growth with resulting nerve compression.

Next read about: Thoracic Outlet Causes

Last Updated: 10/04/2010