Thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when the thoracic outlet (the enclosed space between the bottom of the neck and the top of the arm that contain the blood vessels and nerves serving the arm) becomes narrowed, placing pressure on the blood vessels and nerves.
There are several symptoms that can occur during thoracic outlet syndrome, depending on the severity of the pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in the area. These include:
- Arm fatigue, particularly when doing work that requires reaching overhead
- Fingertip pain
- Numbness or tingling feeling, particularly in the last three fingers
- Radiating pain in arm, hand, or shoulder
- Swelling of the arm
- Weakness in the hand or arm
Risk Factors for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Younger adults who engage in the repetitive raising of the arms are the most likely to suffer from thoracic outlet syndrome. Patients who have an extra rib are also very likely to suffer from the condition, but it can also be caused by muscle enlargement, fracture or deformity in the collarbone or first rib, or when the shoulder begins to sag because of aging.
Treating Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Physical therapy is often the first prescribed method of treating the condition, as long as there are not any underlying vascular problems present that were determined to be the cause (if this is the case, these vascular problems are treated first). There are also several lifestyle changes that physicians will recommend to lower the risk of developing thoracic syndrome, ranging from maintaining correct posture and taking breaks, to losing weight or ceasing to carrying heavy bags on the affected shoulder, to a workplace ergonomic redesign or complete occupational change.