June 6, 2020
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – symptoms, causes and treatment

Thoracic outlet syndrome is the collective name given to a group of conditions that are caused when nerves or blood vessels get compressed in the thoracic outlet. If you don’t know what the thoracic outlet is, it is the narrow area around your first rib and the collarbone. Nerves, blood vessels and muscles that continue from your back portion to the arms pass via this area and in case this outlet becomes too narrow, the structures can get compressed. Due to this, there is an added pressure on the nerves and blood vessels which lead to pain in the neck, shoulders and arms. You may also feel tingling and numbness in your hands.

Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

There are various symptoms that you may experience due to thoracic outlet syndrome usually depend on whether or not the blood vessels and nerves are affected. If the nerves are already compressed, here are the symptoms that you may face:

  • Pain in the shoulder, neck, hand or arm
  • Weakness in your hands
  • Numbness in fingers and forearm

If the blood vessels get compressed, you may experience symptoms like:

  • Redness in the arm
  • Swelling in the arm
  • Arms and hands that feel cold on touching
  • Arms and hands that get fatigued easily

What are the causes of thoracic outlet syndrome?

TOS usually attacks someone when the thoracic outlet gets narrow due to which the blood vessels and nerves get compressed. The main reason behind this compression is not known always. Here are the potential causes of thoracic outlet syndrome:

  • One extra rib
    There are many who have one extra rib above the first one by birth and this automatically reduces and narrows down the size of thoracic outlet and henceforth compresses the blood vessels and nerves.
  • Obesity & poor posture
    People who never stand straight or who have excessive fat stored in their abdomen due to which they feel an added pressure on their joints. This too may be a cause of narrowing down of the thoracic outlet.
  • Overuse of arms & shoulders:
    Engaging in repetitive activities like using the computer or lifting heavy things above your head everyday, this may lead to damage to your thoracic outlet. Eventually, this area might shrink giving pressure to your nerves and vessels.
  • Injury:
    Traumatic injuries and car accidents can also compress the thoracic outlet and the nerves or vessels in that area.

How do you treat thoracic outlet syndrome

The ultimate goal of this form of treatment is to ease the pain and symptoms. Discuss about the best form of treatment for you. You may opt for first-line treatments like over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce pain and inflammation. Engage in physical therapy exercises that take pressure off nerves and blood vessels. In case the symptoms don’t improve with medicines or therapy, you may have to opt for surgeries like angioplasty to open up the thoracic outlet.

So, based on the stage that you’re going through, you should choose the most appropriate treatment that is best for your body.

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