Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, or TOS, are characterized by pain and numbness in the hands, chest and neck. Weakness, swelling and coldness of the fingers, hands and arms are also accompanying symptoms. What is a Thoracic Outlet, what causes Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and what are the treatments for TOS?
The Thoracic Outlet is the oval shaped dome located at the top of your rib cage. It is the outlet that allows the nerves and blood vessels coming up from your chest to make their way to your neck, head and arms. If there is any compression on those nerves or blood vessels as they come out of the oval outlet, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome occurs.
Compression on the nerves and blood vessels can occur from a variety of causes; arthritic spurs on the neck vertebrae, an extra rib, unusual anatomy of upper chest muscles, or it can even be caused by years of poor posture that can cause fibrous bands to form in the Thoracic Outlet area. Posture plays such a vital role in the symptoms and treatments associated with TOS, that if a patient undergoing treatment for TOS returns to a few days of poor posture, it will cause a setback in the treatment of TOS.
Nerve compression in the Thoracic Outlet causes the pain, numbness and/or weakness in the chest, arms, hands and fingers. Depending upon which nerves are being compressed will determine the body parts affected and the symptoms of TOS.
Blood vessel compression in the Thoracic Outlet causes the swelling, coldness and associated pain in the hands and fingers.
A patient that has been diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is usually first put on a treatment program of exercise and stretches under the supervision of a physical therapist. Massage therapy and chiropractic care may also be advised. Heat and ice treatments to reduce swelling and inflammation, injections of cortisone or botox may also be part of the TOS treatment program.
It does take time to see results from an exercise treatment program, and an even longer time for the symptoms to be completely gone, if ever. But Thoracic Outlet Syndrome does not happen overnight, the nerve and blood vessel compression has been building over time and to reverse the compression and relieve the symptoms will take time as well.
If a treatment program of exercise and stretches does not relieve the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, there are surgical options to correct whatever may be pressing on the nerves or the blood vessels in the Thoracic Outlet.