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Physical therapy for thoracic outlet syndrome

What is thoracic outlet syndrome?

The thoracic outlet is a space between the lower neck and upper chest where a cluster of nerves and blood vessels is located. Thoracic outlet syndrome refers to a group of disorders that occur when the nerves and blood vessels in that region are compressed, irritated, or otherwise injured.

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) affects patients of all ages and genders, though it’s somewhat more likely to affect women than men. Patients who participate in activities that require repetitive arm motions like swimming and volleyball are at greater risk of developing the condition. The symptoms of TOS include numbness and impaired circulation to the affected areas, although each patient will experience their symptoms differently.

Source: Cleveland Clinic

Thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms

There are multiple types of thoracic outlet syndrome between which symptoms vary. Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome is caused by compression of the brachial plexus, a network of nerves that control muscle movements and sensation in the shoulder. Most cases of thoracic outlet syndrome are neurogenic, but some are vascular or non-specific.

Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when one or more of the veins or arteries located under the clavicle are compressed, while non-specific thoracic outlet syndrome is characterized by unidentifiable chronic pain in the thoracic outlet.

Signs and symptoms of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome include muscle wasting in the thumb, numbness or tingling in the arms or fingers, aches and pains in the neck, shoulder, or hand, and a weakened grip. Symptoms of vascular thoracic outlet syndrome include discoloration or lack of coloration in the hand, weakness of the arm or neck, arm pain and swelling, cold fingers, and weak or no pulse in the arm.

The most common symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or fingers
  • Pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm
  • Bluish color or lack of color in the hand
  • Weakness in the arm, neck, or hand

Source: Mayo Clinic

What causes thoracic outlet syndrome?

Thoracic outlet syndrome is the direct result of the thoracic outlet narrowing. When the area between the collarbone and upper chest shrinks, it can compress the nerves and cause the onset of TOS. However, the cause of the compression can be difficult or impossible to identify.

Frequently, TOS is due to overuse of the shoulders and arms. Activities like swimming, weightlifting, or throwing can lead to excessive wear and tear of the thoracic outlet. Car accidents and other traumatic injuries, poor posture, or obesity can also compress the thoracic outlet.

The most common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include:

  • Overuse of the shoulders and arms
  • Traumatic injury
  • Obesity
  • Poor posture

Source: Healthline

Physical therapy for thoracic outlet syndrome

Physical therapy is often prescribed for patients suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome. A personalized physical therapy regimen can help to reduce discomfort, increase mobility and functioning, and prevent the condition from progressing further.

A comprehensive physical therapy treatment program for thoracic outlet syndrome will include stretches to improve flexibility, hands-on therapy to reduce pain, exercises to strengthen the region, and education on strategies to improve the health of the nerves and arteries located in the thoracic outlet.

Common stretches for TOS include scalene stretches, pectoralis stretches, and thoracic extension exercises. Strengthening exercises include scapular squeezes, rowing exercises, and mid-trap exercises.

Source: Summit Medical Group

The best thoracic outlet syndrome physical therapists across the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Orange County

Luna’s physical therapists are highly experienced in treating patients with thoracic outlet syndrome. Leveraging proven techniques and personalized exercise routines, our licensed PTs can help restore mobility and reduce the discomfort associated with TOS. Our PTs will work with you to create a plan that’s tailored to the type, cause, and severity of your thoracic outlet syndrome.

With Luna, patients can get treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome in the comfort of their own homes. It’s physical therapy, delivered.

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