Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that occur when the blood vessels or nerves in the space between the collarbone and the first rib (thoracic outlet) become compressed. This can cause pain in the shoulders and neck and numbness in the fingers.
Common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include physical trauma from a car accident, repetitive injuries from job or sports related activities, certain anatomical defects (such as having an extra rib), and pregnancy. Sometimes the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome cannot be determined.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is more common in women. It usually starts between 20 and 50 years of age. Treatment depends on what caused the our thoracic outlet syndrome . Medicines, physical therapy, and relaxation might help. Surgery may also be an option. Most people recover.
There is a feeling of burning, tingling, and numbness along the arm, hand, and fingers. If a nerve is compressed, weakness in the hand is also felt. If a vein is compressed, the hand might be sensitive to cold, or turn pale or bluish. The arm might swell and tire easily.
In general, the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome is compression of the nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic outlet, just under your collarbone (clavicle). The cause of the compression varies and can include:
- Anatomical defects
- Tumors that press on nerves
- Poor posture that causes nerve compression
- Repetitive arm and shoulder movements and activity, such as from playing certain sports
Risk factors include occupations that involve heavy usage of the upper extremities against resistance, including jack-hammer operators and dental hygienists, weight lifters, pregnant women, and obese individuals.
If the subject has not been treated early in the condition, soon after noticing the symptoms, then a progressive nerve damage may be experienced which may require surgery.
Doctors recommend surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome only when other treatments haven't been effective. Surgery has higher risks than do other treatments and may not always treat the symptoms.
Thoracic outlet syndrome that goes untreated for years can cause permanent neurological damage, so it is important to have the symptoms evaluated and treated early, or take steps to prevent the disorder. If a person is susceptible to thoracic outlet compression, they should avoid repetitive movements and lifting heavy objects. In case of being overweight, it is possible to 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.