Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

I’ll begin my discussion of common chiropractic conditions with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).  I had a patient the other day present with this, so I thought I’d start with it.

This syndrome is usually noticed with tingling, numbness, or odd sort of ache in your arm or hand.  Symptoms are commonly only on one side, but can be present in both.  People will often notice these symptoms more when they raise their hands over their head.  If you’ve ever had your arm “fall asleep” or hit your funny bone it is similar, but more constant.

These symptoms can be caused by problems with blood vessels, but 95% of the time they have more to do with the nerves of the arm.  These nerves come out of the spinal cord from the lower neck and go through places where they could be easily pinched or irritated.  Starting at the spine these nerves travel through a narrow space in the bones then through the muscles of the neck called the scalenes.  They then travel between the ribs and collarbone, through the armpit, and then through the muscles of the arm and forearm. At any point or many points in this trip they can be compressed by inflammation, sprain, strain, subluxation or other injury that has occurred.  So there may be more than one source.

Depending on the cause there are many things that your chiropractor will do to treat TOS. They will correct any subluxations that they find that may be contributing, they should recommend massage for any tight muscles, as well as ultrasound or laser therapy to address other soft tissue components.

There are also things that you can do.  If diagnosed with TOS you should avoid overhead work, limit your work with your arms to light duty for the duration of care, usually about 8-12 weeks.  You should modify your activities such as decreasing your upper body workout level or alternating the arm you use to carry your bags or child.

Approximately 85% of patients with TOS will improve with conservative care.  Occasionally surgery or more invasive measures may be necessary to remove scar tissue adhesions, an extra first rib, or if there is vascular involvement.

TOS can be frustrating, but it is also very treatable.  As with every condition, the sooner you come in for help the better.  I have seen great results in treating this condition, and would be happy to help you with it.  Contact your local chiropractor for additional information.


5 thoughts on “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

  1. Dr James Stoxen DC

    (EDITOR’S WARNING! Blatant advertising, but there is good information on the site so I allowed the comment)
    There are non surgical treatments for thoracic outlet syndrome that work very well. Here is a presentation I did on that very subject at the 12th Annual World Congress on Anti-aging Medicine, Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas Nevada, December 4, 2004

    Presentation on Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
    by Dr James Stoxen DC


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