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What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Numbness and tingling in your arm and hand can be alarming; and it could mean many different things. One possibility is a rare condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.


Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition in which nerves and blood vessels are compressed by the anatomy at the top of the chest cavity. It affects the space between the collarbone and first rib (thoracic outlet).


Symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome include pain in the shoulders and neck and numbness, weakness, and coldness in the fingers. The syndrome can present with a number of different signs and symptoms but most who suffer complain of persistent pain – even persistent headaches.


Common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include physical trauma from a car accident, repetitive injuries from job- or sports-related activities, certain anatomical defects (such as having an extra rib), and pregnancy. Sometimes doctors aren’t able to determine the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome.


Treatment can vary depending on the severity of the condition but typically involves physical therapy and pain relief measures. Most people improve with these approaches. On rare occasions, surgery is necessary to relieve the compression.

As an example, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett underwent surgery to remove his right first rib in 2013 due to a thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosis. The condition was affecting his throwing as he was experiencing numbness and tingling in his right arm and hand.

Recent studies have evaluated how blockages in the internal jugular vein play a role in the condition. It has been discovered that internal jugular vein blockage is common in thoracic outlet syndrome patients and may contribute to their symptoms.

The studies have also shown that many patients experience improvement after a catheter-based balloon is injected to inflate the area of blockage.

If you think you might be suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, talk to your primary care physician.


The information contained in this article is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice. Patient results will vary based on risk factors, age, disease and medical history and are not guaranteed in any way.

The information contained in this website is neither intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate or best care for any given health issue, nor is it intended to be used as a substitute for the independent judgment of a physician for any given health issue. Patient results will vary based on risk factors, age, disease and medical history. Please seek physician's advice. Like any procedure, it may come with benefits, risks or side effects associated. Click here for additional information.

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