8 Signs You May Be Suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - VIR

What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) refers to disorders that take place when injury, irritation, or compression affect the nerves and/or blood vessels (veins and arteries) in the area of the lower neck and upper chest area. It gets its name from the Thoracic Outlet that is located between the lower neck and upper chest and this collection of blood vessels and nerves can be found. TOS can affect virtually anyone, regardless of their age or gender. It's particularly common, however, in athletes who perform repetitive motions with their arms and shoulders, including volleyball, baseball, and swimming.

What Are the Types of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?
There are three main types of TOS. These include:
  • Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome: This type makes up to 95% of TOS cases and affects primarily middle-aged women. It occurs when the nerves leading from the neck to the arm, also known as the brachial plexus, become compressed. 
  • Venous thoracic outlet syndrome: Also known as vascular TOS, this type makes up around 5% of TOS cases. It occurs when a vein becomes compressed, causing upper body thrombosis.
  • Arterial thoracic outlet syndrome: This is a rare but serious form of TOS that occurs as a result of a congenital bony abnormality in the lower neck and upper chest.
While it's not always clear what causes TOS, a number of lifestyle factors can increase a person's likelihood of developing it, such as:
  • Poor posture
  • Sleep disorders
  • Weightlifting
  • Sports that require repetitive arm movements
  • Injury to one's back or neck
  • Whiplash
  • Stress
  • Tumors in the lower neck or upper chest area
Signs That You May Have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Regardless of what type of TOS a person may be suffering from, there are several tell-tale symptoms that could indicate that they have TOS, including:
  • Pain, numbness or tingling in the arm, forearm or fingers
  • Loss of pulse in the wrist
  • Swollen, bluish arm
  • Clumsiness of the affected arm
  • Band-like tightness around the bicep muscle
  • Cold hand or arm
  • Waking during the night with pain, aching, or numbness of the arm
  • Headaches, neck pain, shoulder and back muscle tightness or chest discomfort
How is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Treated?

While TOS cannot be cured, it is treatable. When left untreated, TOS can cause more serious complications, including permanent arm swelling and pain, blood clots, pulmonary embolism, and permanent nerve damage. Because of this, it's best to seek treatment sooner rather than later when you first notice the symptoms of TOS. With the primary goals of reducing your pain and symptoms, treatment for TOS include:
  • Physical Therapy
  • Medications
  • Surgery
After being examined and diagnosed, your doctor can make a personalized treatment plan to help you manage your TOS and reduce your symptoms.

Tips to Prevent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome 

Certain lifestyle factors can make a big difference in terms of a person developing TOS over time. Keep these tips in mind to reduce your chances of forming TOS:
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects or carrying heavy items over one shoulder, which can put pressure on your thoracic outlet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stretch regularly
  • Keep your shoulder muscles strong through exercise
  • Get enough sleep
Vascular Institute Can Help Manage Your Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
If you are suffering from one or more symptoms of TOS, now is the time to seek professional treatment. At the Vascular Institute of the Rockies, we are well-equipped to help diagnose and treat your TOS with professional, compassionate care. To learn more about TOS and caring for your vascular system, visit us online today. We can't wait to help you take the first step in living a happy life with healthy veins.


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