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Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

    Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a condition that occurs when there is compression of the nerves and blood vessels between the neck and shoulder. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including pain, numbness, and tingling in the affected area. In this blog post, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for TOS, as well as exercises that can help ease the symptoms.

    Causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    There are several potential causes of TOS, including physical trauma, repetitive movements, and certain anatomical abnormalities. Sometimes, the cause may be a combination of factors.

    One of the most common causes of TOS is physical trauma, such as a car accident or a sports-related injury. These types of injuries can cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the thoracic outlet area, leading to TOS symptoms.

    Repetitive movements can also lead to TOS. This is particularly common in people who engage in activities that require a lot of arm movement, such as throwing a ball or lifting weights. Over time, these movements can cause the nerves and blood vessels in the thoracic outlet to become compressed, leading to TOS.

    Finally, certain anatomical abnormalities can also increase the risk of TOS. For example, some people have extra ribs in their thoracic outlet area, which can compress the nerves and blood vessels in the area.


    The symptoms of TOS can vary depending on which nerves and blood vessels are affected. However, some common symptoms include:

    • Pain in the neck, shoulder, and arm
    • Numbness and tingling in the fingers
    • Weakness in the hand and arm
    • Swelling in the affected area

    If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

    Treatment Options

    There are several treatment options for TOS, including physical therapy, medication, and surgery. The type of treatment that is right for you will depend on the severity of your symptoms and the underlying cause of your TOS.

    Physical therapy is often the first line of treatment for TOS. A physiotherapist can help you improve your posture and mobility, as well as teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles in your neck and shoulder. This can help ease the symptoms of TOS and prevent them from returning.

    Your doctor may prescribe pain medication or muscle relaxants to help reduce pain and inflammation. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying cause of TOS. This may involve removing any extra ribs or tissue that is compressing the nerves and blood vessels in the thoracic outlet area.

    Exercises for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    There are several exercises that can help alleviate the symptoms of TOS and prevent them from returning. These exercises are designed to improve posture and strengthen the muscles in the neck and shoulder.

    One of the most effective exercises for TOS starts with the shoulder blade squeeze. To do this exercise, stand with your arms at your sides and your feet shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times.

    Once you are able to have enough control over the shoulder blades, shoulder and neck exercises are initiated. Elevating your arm through the full range of movement in front of your body as well as sideways is important. Isometric strengthening of scalene muscle is essential part of retraining into a new movement pattern.

    When to Seek Online Physiotherapy?

    If you are experiencing symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. In many cases, physiotherapy can help alleviate the symptoms and prevent them from returning.

    If you cannot visit a physiotherapist in person, online physiotherapy can be a convenient and effective option. Online physiotherapy allows you to receive treatment right away from a licensed physiotherapist remotely, using video conferencing software. This can be a great option if you are unable to visit a clinic in person because of a busy schedule or mobility issues.

    Through KBPhysio, I see clients virtually throughout British Columbia for their physiotherapy needs. Together, we’ll develop exercises and treatment plan that allow you to take part in life and recreational activities that are most enjoyable to you. Get in touch to learn more.

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