Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that occur when you constrict blood vessels or nerves in the thoracic outlet. This can cause tingling in your fingers and pain in your neck and shoulders.

You may develop thoracic outlet syndrome from pregnancy, physical trauma, having an extra rib, and repetitive injuries from strenuous activities. We might not always be able to identify the cause of your disorder.

Treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome usually involves physical therapy and pain relief measures. Most people improve with these approaches. In some cases, however, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Do I Have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Symptoms may vary depending on which body structures are constricted.

Symptoms of neurological thoracic outlet syndrome can include:

  • Pain in your hand, shoulder, or neck
  • Muscle wasting in the fleshy base of your thumb
  • Weaker grip
  • Tingling in your fingers or arms

Symptoms of vascular thoracic outlet syndrome can include:

  • Blood clot in veins or arteries in the upper area of your body
  • Arm pain and swelling, possibly due to blood clots
  • Bluish discoloration of your hand
  • Lack of color in your fingers or hand
  • Weak or no pulse in the affected arm
  • Cold fingers, hands, or arms
  • Arm fatigue with activity
  • Tingling in your fingers
  • Weakness of arm or neck
  • Throbbing lump near your collarbone

Risk factors

There are a few factors that seem to increase the risk of thoracic outlet syndrome, including:

  • Age. Thoracic outlet syndrome is more common in young adults, between 20 and 40 years old.
  • Sex. Females are far more likely to suffer from this syndrome.

Prevention

Thoracic outlet syndrome that goes untreated for years can cause permanent neurological damage, so it’s important to have your symptoms evaluated and treated early, or take steps to prevent the disorder.

If you’re susceptible to thoracic outlet compression, avoid repetitive movements and lifting heavy objects. If you’re overweight, you can prevent or relieve symptoms associated with thoracic outlet syndrome by losing weight.

Even if you don’t have symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome, avoid carrying heavy bags over your shoulder, because this can increase pressure on the thoracic outlet. Stretch daily, and perform exercises that keep your shoulder muscles strong.

Daily stretches focusing on the chest, neck and shoulders can help improve shoulder muscle strength and prevent thoracic outlet syndrome.

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