What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is an umbrella term for a rare and often misdiagnosed group of three medical conditions which affect the thoracic outlet – an area near the shoulder extending from collarbone to rib. The syndrome is caused by compression of the nerves and veins in that area, leading to pain and loss of sensation. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a chronic condition: it may last for years or become a lifelong issue without proper treatment.

The Mayo Clinic states that some common causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome are injury in an automobile or motorcycle accident, repetitive stress injuries from sports or employment, pregnancy, and anatomical differences, like having an extra rib.


What are the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome mostly involve the shoulders and hands. Patients with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome may experience muscle wasting in the hands, numbness and tingling in the arms and fingers, aches and pains in the shoulder area, arm pain and swelling, and weakening grip and arm strength.  Left untreated, the condition can cause permanent nerve damage in the body.

What are the treatments for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

According to the National Institutes of Health, treatment for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome begins with physical therapy exercises to strengthen muscles in the chest, restore posture, and relieve compression of the brachial plexus by increasing the area that the affected nerves pass through. Treatment also often includes prescription-strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen and ibuprofen for pain relief, and medications to break up blood clots and prevent new clots from forming. If conservative measures fail, surgery may be suggested  to release the trapped nerve or vein, or to remove the extra rib.

What should I do if I’m experiencing symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Making a diagnosis of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome can be particularly difficult, as symptoms are similar to a number of other disorders, such as fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis. If you are experiencing symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, contact us for an appointment.  Our team of professionals have years of experience diagnosing and treating the most difficult of cases. Only a medical professional can test for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and provide an accurate diagnosis. Hampton Roads Orthopaedics, Spine and Sports Medicine is available to help you get back to doing what you love.