What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is a condition that occurs when blood vessels
or nerves are under any type of compression. In some cases, both the nerves
and the blood vessels can be compressed. This happens because they do
not have enough space in the thoracic outlet located at the armpit and
the base of the neck.
What does TOS do to the body?
TOS can cause the fingers to go numb, and many people suffering from this
condition can feel pain in their neck and shoulders as well. A variety
of conditions and events can cause TOS, as any enlargement or changes
to the outlet or the tissues near the outlet can result in compression.
This includes conditions such as:
- Receiving injuries to the neck or rib cage
- Weight gain
- Weight lifting
- Tumors at the crest of the lung
Sometimes, doctors aren't actually able to determine the specific cause
of TOS because its symptoms can vary greatly. They will typically involve
numb hands and fingers because of the lack of circulation. They can also
cause discoloration of the extremities, and even pain which results in
weakness. Sometimes the symptoms will come and go and other times they
will be persistent.
Diagnosing TOS in Injured Individuals
To diagnose TOC, expert neurologists will look at the symptoms the patient
complains of having, and may then try to replicate them by having the
patient raise his or her arm above their ear. Certain motions can cause
loss of a pulse, which the doctor will look for during the test.
The doctor might also want the patient to have an electromyogram, or EGM,
which can help to detect the problem. Additionally, x-rays can often show
the area where blood vessels might be constricted.
What treatments are available for TOS?
It is possible to treat TOS with a number of different options, and most
of them are relatively easy to implement. Doctors may have the patient
perform exercises that help to stretch the thoracic outlet. This will
relieve the compression on the nerves and blood vessels. It may also be
suggested that patients try to avoid being in positions where their hands
are above their heads or are stretched out in front of them for long periods
of time. Those whose work or sport of choice puts them in these positions
should be sure to take plenty of breaks to reduce fatigue.
Those who suffer from TOS because of their weight may want to consider
a physician supervised weight-loss program. Some doctors might also prescribe
anti-inflammatory medication to help with the symptoms. Most people will
be able to have their TOS symptoms treated with very little trouble. However,
in some cases, the patient may require surgery in order to relive the
pressure on the blood vessels and nerves.
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