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Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Symptoms, Treatment & Tests

Facts you should know about thoracic outlet syndrome

Picture of thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) showing symptom areasPicture of thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) showing symptom areas

  • Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition whereby symptoms are produced from compression of nerves or blood vessels, or both, because of an inadequate passageway through an area (thoracic outlet) between the base of the neck and the armpit.
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms include
  • Diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome is suggested by the symptoms and physical findings and is sometimes supported by nerve conduction and/or radiology tests.
  • Treatment of thoracic outlet syndrome usually involves physical-therapy exercises and avoiding certain prolonged positions of the shoulder.

What is thoracic outlet syndrome?

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a condition whereby symptoms are produced (such as numbness in fingers, pain in shoulder, arm, and neck) due to compression of nerves and/or blood vessels in the upper chest. The passageway for these nerves and blood vessels to exit the chest and supply the upper extremities is referred to as the thoracic outlet. Muscle, bone, and other tissues border the thoracic outlet. Any condition that results in enlargement or movement of these tissues of or near the thoracic outlet can cause the thoracic outlet syndrome. These conditions include muscle enlargement (such as from weight lifting), injuries, an extra rib extending from the neck (cervical rib), weight gain, and rare tumors at the top of the lung. Often no specific cause is detectable.

It is felt by some scientists that the evolution of the torso of primates from a four-legged to a two-legged position may predispose humans to the development of thoracic outlet syndrome. The resulting vertical posture produced flattening of the chest cage and a shift of the shoulder joint backward, both of which narrowed the thoracic outlet.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Symptoms

Plumbing the Pits of Despair With Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

My symptoms started off somewhat vague. I had taken on a new position at work that required a lot of time on the computer. I began having pain on my right side in my neck and shoulder with tingling in my hand at the end of the day.

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    What types of doctors treat thoracic outlet syndrome?

    Doctors who treat thoracic outlet syndrome include general physicians, such as general-medicine doctors, family medicine doctors, and internists, as well as rheumatologists, physical-medicine doctors, and chest surgeons.

    What is the prognosis for thoracic outlet syndrome?

    Most people with thoracic outlet syndrome can have complete resolution of symptoms with conservative measures, including exercises specific for thoracic outlet syndrome, physical therapy, and avoiding stressing the tissues of the thoracic outlet. It can be helpful to avoid sleeping with the arms extended above the head. Rarely, surgical intervention can be necessary to take pressure off of involved nerves and blood vessels. Complications include embolization to the hand and nerve damage to the extremity involved.

    Is it possible to prevent thoracic outlet syndrome?

    It's possible to prevent thoracic outlet syndrome by maintaining relaxed tissues of the upper chest. This can involve prevention exercises, stretches, and therapies designed to loosen the tissues around the shoulders and neck.

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