What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)?

thoracic outlet syndrome


Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) describes several uncommon conditions that compress the brachial plexus.  The thoracic outlet is located in the upper chest area between the rib cage and clavicle (collarbone). In this area, a group of blood vessels and nerves called the brachial plexus sends messages between your brain and your hand and arm.  

Why Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Occurs

It can be caused by trauma, repetitive movements, exertion, anatomic narrowing of the muscles, or congenital conditions. Musicians, athletes (especially those who train their upper bodies with weights), and employees who continuously use their lower neck and upper chest muscles are particularly at risk of TOS. The disorder is also linked with extra cervical ribs or abnormal ribs that are present from birth, as well as poorly healed whiplash, collarbone, or first-rib injuries.

Most often, thoracic outlet syndrome develops from a combination of the way your body is built and frequent or overuse motions of the area. The thoracic outlet is a narrow space, where compression can quickly occur. Sometimes, the room is too narrow for nerves and blood vessels to travel smoothly through this space between the upper ribs and collarbone.

If left untreated, pain and discomfort can worsen and upper-extremity function may decrease. 

Symptoms of TOS

Symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome include:

  • Weak grip of the hand muscles
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers (especially the pinky and ring fingers) or inner forearm
  • Neck and shoulder pain or tingling
  • Cold feeling or other signs of poor circulation in the forearm or hand
  • Sores on the fingers that don’t heal well

Treatment for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Treatment plans are tailored based on the type of TOS and length of symptoms and can encompass conservative therapies and surgery. Nonsurgical approaches include:

  • Physical, massage, chiropractic, and exercise therapy to strengthen and align the back and shoulders
  • Ergonomic evaluations to assure that patients are sitting at desks and using computers in the correct positions
  • Pain management with nerve-blocking agents and/or acupuncture 
  • Breathing focus – Dr. Emily dealt with TOS in her last year of chiropractic school and retraining her breathing pattern was actually the biggest contributing factor in healing her TOS + related symptoms long term. 

How Chiropractic Care Can Help Patients with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

If you have been diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, be sure to schedule an appointment with Dr. Lydia and Dr. Emily at Vaida.  Receiving regular chiropractic care can ensure that your spine and the joints affected by TOS are kept in optimal alignment.  

Staying aligned also lessens the stress of overtaxed muscles, tendons, and ligaments which plays a huge role in treating and mitigating the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.


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