Ask The Expert
January 27, 2011
First, you must be sure that your symptoms are definitely caused by thoracic outlet syndrome. This condition is rare.
The “thoracic outlet” refers to an opening at the junction of the neck, upper chest and arms through which important blood vessels and nerves travel. If that region is narrow, there may be reduced circulation or a pinching of the nerves to the arm. When symptoms occur, it is called thoracic outlet syndrome.
A person with thoracic outlet syndrome may have one or more of these symptoms in the arm and/or hand:
Most often these symptoms are related to some cause other than thoracic outlet syndrome.
I suggest that you first talk with your doctor. To start, diagnosing thoracic outlet syndrome requires a combination of the following:
If the diagnosis seems likely, I would next refer you to a neurologist. He or she will repeat the physical examination and likely order special testing of your nerve function.
Treatment options include simple measures to reduce pressure in the thoracic outlet. This can include improving posture; relaxing the muscles of the neck, thorax and shoulder; losing weight; or wearing a support bra. Physical therapy is usually helpful.
Surgery to “open up” the thoracic outlet is needed in less than 10% of cases. It may be appropriate when the diagnosis has been well established, other causes of the symptoms have been ruled out and the more conservative therapies mentioned above have failed.