The Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is often difficult to diagnose and has no specific test available. Estimates of the syndrome range from 3 to 80 individuals per 1000 people.

What Is Frozen Shoulder Or Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

The thoracic outlet is the ring that is just above the collarbones and formed by the top ribs. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) refers to disorders that happen when there is irritation, compression, or injury of nerves and blood vessels. It affects areas such as the upper chest
and lower neck.

The blood vessels, muscles, and nerves pass through the area of the thoracic outlet.

a person suffering from frozen shoulder

If the space in this area is too narrow, these structures can become compressed, leading to increased pressure on nerves and blood vessels. This, in turn, can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and arms and even a numbing or tingling sensation in your hands.

Symptoms Of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

The symptoms you experience due to the syndrome will depend if your blood vessels or nerves are affected. If blood vessels are compressed, you can experience:

● Swelling and redness on the arm
● Hands or arms that are cold to touch
● Hands or arms get quickly tired.

If your nerves are compressed, you can experience:

● Pain in certain parts of neck, hand, arm or shoulders
● Weakness of hand
● Numb feeling in the forearm and fingers

You can also find it difficult to lift your arms above your head and have a limited range of motion in your shoulders.

What Causes Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

While the syndrome occurs when blood vessels and nerves get compressed, the cause of the compression isn’t always known. According to research, it may develop due to the following reasons:

  1. Poor Poster or Obesity
    Lack of good posture or excess abdominal fat may increase the pressure on joints and narrow down the thoracic outlet.
  2. An Extra Rib
    Few people are born with an extra rib above the first rib. The additional bone can reduce the size of the thoracic outlet and compress blood vessels and nerves.
  3. Overuse or Repetitive Movements of Shoulders and Arms
    Activities involving repetitive movements such as lifting heavy objects or excessively working on the computer can cause damage to the tissue of the thoracic outlet. With time, the size of the thoracic outlet may shrink, which will place pressure on nerves and vessels.
  4. Injury
    Physical traumatic injuries like a car accident can compress the thoracic outlet and the nerves and vessels present in the area.

What Therapies Can Help  

Early identification of TOS can improve the success of treating it. Treatments for thoracic outlet syndrome vary according to the symptoms and severity.  The goal of treatments is to ease pain and reduce symptoms.  It is, however, advised that before choosing any treatment, it is essential to talk to your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will recommend the correct treatment option for you and educate you about potential risks and side effects.  

The most common and initial treatment for TOS is physical therapy, which helps strengthen your muscles and promote better posture. Physical therapy also provides support for collarbones and muscles surrounding the thoracic outlet. Over time, the exercises involved in the treatment may take pressure off blood vessels and nerves in the affected area.   

Massage Therapists who are trained medically will also be able to provide relief through massage techniques that affect all the muscle that are impacted by the “frozen shoulder/TOS.” In some cases, setting up a treatment plan with your medical massage therapist will not only help you recover from the symptoms, but help move you beyond the limited range of motion many suffer with as a result of the trauma that caused the issue to begin with. It is even becoming scientifically proven that if you couple massage therapy with your physical therapy that you will make greater gains in recovery much more quickly than with physical therapy alone. It is best to receive your massage treatment a day prior to your physical therapy treatment, in order to have the most beneficial affects. The massage will help loosen your muscles up enough to do more in your PT session with less pain and more long term benefits. 

Final Thoughts  

If you are experiencing symptoms of TOS, book an appointment with your doctor. Prompt treatment can prevent the syndrome from worsening.   If you leave the condition untreated, thoracic outlet syndrome can lead to permanent neurological damage. Physical therapies can assist patients and are effective at reducing symptoms.

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