Do you have numbness or tingling in your arms or hands? Does working with your hands overhead cause discomfort, pain, or fatigue? Do your hands or arms ever feel cold or look discolored? Do you have a job that requires a lot of overhead movement? Are you a swimmer or baseball player? If you answered yes to any of these questions, there is a possibility you may have or be at risk for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is divided into two main categories: neurogenic and vascular. Neurogenic TOS is characterized by symptoms of weakness and/or numbness or tingling in the arm and hand, pain or aching in the neck, shoulder or hand, and weakening grip. If severe or chronic, TOS can lead to muscle wasting in the hand and arm. Vascular TOS is characterized by arm pain and swelling, discoloration of the hand, cold fingers, hands or arms, arm fatigue with activity, weakness of the arm or neck, and lack of color in the fingers or hand. While more severe, vascular TOS is much less common.
The causes of TOS are numerous, as anything compressing the thoracic outlet can lead to symptoms. The thoracic outlet is the area from the base of the neck to the armpit, traversing between the first rib and collarbone. Common causes of compression include anatomical defects, poor posture, trauma, repetitive activity, undue joint stress, and pregnancy. Poor posture of drooping shoulders or forward head position (picture looking down at a phone or computer screen) are common causes of thoracic outlet compression. Those with jobs requiring repetitive movements, such as those performing continuous lifting or movement overhead, and athletes are at higher risk of TOS as well.
Treating TOS early is essential for proper management of the condition. If diagnosed early, TOS can be treated conservatively with chiropractic and physical therapies. If allowed to progress, surgery is generally the only option and permanent complications can result, such as neurological damage, arm swelling and pain, finger ulcers, blood clots, and pulmonary embolism.
At Watkins Family Chiropractic, Dr. Josh Watkins and Dr. Lindsey Hurlbut are trained in many modalities that can relieve symptoms and treat the causes of TOS. These modalities include manual adjustments, lifestyle modifications, exercises, muscle release and electrical stimulation. Schedule an appointment today to see how Dr. Josh and Dr. Lindsey can help you.