With symptoms that are vague and hard to figure out, thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition that may take some time to diagnose and treat. It would help however to be aware of this disorder as to its causes, signs and symptoms and treatment methods to help you deal with it.

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) happens when the superior thoracic outlet is compressed. This outlet is a neurovascular bundle that passes between the anterior and middle scalenes at the base of the neck. It is more common in women, occurring between the ages 20 to 50. The most common cause of thoracic outlet syndrome is trauma, which can be sudden or repetitive. With sudden trauma, there is a fracture in the clavicles that can be caused by accidents. Repetitive trauma on the other hand happens to those who have to do certain tasks over and over again using the wrists and the arms. Those who are at risk for developing TOS are people who are in non-ergonomic postures for several hours working on computers, athletes who often have to raise their arms above, electricians, musicians and rock climbers.

The signs and symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome depend on the certain type of TOS. For neurogenic TOS, there is severe muscle wasting at the base of the thumb which is called the Gilliatt-Sumner hand. There will also be a dull pain at the neck, the shoulders and the armpits as well as numbness at the hands and the forearms. For the vascular type of TOS, the affected arm is usually paler and is cooler to touch from that of the unaffected arm. This is often accompanied by pain, numbness, a tingling sensation and absent or weak pulse. For non-specified TOS, the most common sign would be a dull pain at the neck, the armpits and the shoulders. The pain usually gets worse when you do activities, and is triggered by accidents or injuries.

For most people with thoracic outlet syndrome, the treatment will usually be through the conventional ways and there are only few who will need surgical interventions. One of the most common treatments is the use of ice and heat. Ice packs can be used to help decrease the inflammation of the injured or sore muscles. Heat on the other hand will improve the circulation on the affected areas which will also bring relief. It is also important to maintain a proper posture since poor posture can actually aggravate the signs and symptoms of TOS. Stretching is also a way of relieving TOS as long as it is done properly. This will help reduce the compression of the thoracic cavity, help decrease the impingement of the blood vessels and nerves as well as help realign the muscles, bones and ligaments that are causing TOS. Nerve gliding is also an effective treatment method for thoracic outlet syndrome. To do this, you will need extend the affected arm towards the side and tilt your head to the opposite side. You will feel a gentle pull at the affected side when you do this. If you need the help of a physical therapist in doing the said exercises, then it would be better so that he can ensure that the activities you are doing are correctly done.

Treating TOS as early as possible is very important so that it will not get worse and will lead to complications. Be aware of the different signs and symptoms so that you will be able to identify if you are suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome or not.

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