Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

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Definition - What does Thoracic Outlet Syndrome mean?

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is an umbrella term that defines a rare health condition noted by compressed nerves, arteries, or veins between the muscles around the clavicle (collarbone) and first rib. The thoracic outlet is a narrow space of the brachial plexus, or bundle of blood vessels/nerves, that transmit signals from the brain to the arms/hands. TOS cases often develop from repetitive strain or overuse due to fibrous buildup in the muscles/tendons.

SureHire explains Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome falls into three subsets: arteries, veins, and nerves. A person's symptoms can vary based on the compression or injury of one or all three stimuli, played up by the extent of damage where the shoulder muscles/tendons lose strength and free range of motion (ROM). For example, people with TOS nerve compression may notice chronic pain, numbness/tingling in the neck/shoulders/arms/hands, and fine motor skill deficits (i.e., weak grip). Likewise, a person with TOS artery/vein compression may experience cold sensation/swelling in the digits, numbness/tingling in the fingertips, and weakness in the arm or neck.

The causes of thoracic outlet syndrome can have open-ended implications that a doctor must diagnose. A tall stature, repetitive forces/strain to the shoulder muscles/tendons, and joint stress from obesity or carrying heavy loads are a few examples of TOS cases. A battery of tests will close the gap by isolating the source of compression in or around the neuromuscular bundle that supplies biofeedback, mainly from the neck, chest, and upper arm(s). The morbidity rate of TOS cases is touch-and-go based on the time needed for the compressed area to heal. The fibrotic tissue of the thoracic outlet can also lead to blood clots or cause permanent nerve damage if left untreated. Physical therapy can help build strength and improve ROM flexibility in the affected site, along with medications to reduce inflammation/swelling and relieve muscle tension.

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