Thoracic outlet syndrome was once a difficult condition to diagnose. Today, however, it is much better understood and treatment options, such as physical therapy, can help alleviate the pain it causes. There are three types of Thoracic outlet syndrome: neurological, vascular, and non-symptomatic. This article will focus on the type that occurs in approximately 95% of cases, neurological thoracic outlet syndrome.
Thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when the nerves or blood vessels between your neck and collarbone/axilla area are compressed. The term thoracic outlet refers to the small space these vessels must pass through to exit the thorax (chest) and supply the upper extremities. The thoracic outlet space naturally changes in volume with activity or breathing but it can become cramped and cause compression to the nerves and vessels that run through it.
While each patient may present differently, especially depending on the type of thoracic outlet syndrome, many patients with neurological Thoracic outlet syndrome have similar symptoms. Here is a list of the most common symptoms associated with thoracic outlet syndrome:
Each patient is different so not all symptoms may be experienced, and they may be constant or may come and go.
There are varying causes for this condition but here are the most common:
Exercise and pointed physical therapy focused on the shoulder muscles is the first treatment option for Thoracic outlet syndrome, and studies have found it to be up to 90% successful. Such a program can consist of a variety of stretches, exercises, and postural corrections. Here are some common treatments:
These stretches help to reduce neck and shoulder strain and improve flexibility. Here are two common stretches:
Many exercises can be done with minimal equipment such as a resistance band or 2kg weights. Your physical therapist can set up a personal program specific to you. Here is an example of a resistance band exercise:
This can include the mobilization and manipulation of joints to improve your range of motion.
The goal is to improve overall body function and increase circulation. Emphasis should be placed on steady diaphragmatic or deep breathing as this can decrease muscle tension.
All physical therapy programs should be specified to your needs and your therapist can work with you to create the best plan and assist you as you progress. Proper techniques for any exercises will be discussed by your physical therapist to prevent any undue shoulder or neck strain.
Thoracic outlet syndrome can be a painful condition that hinders daily activities. A physical therapy program including strengthening exercises, stretches, and manual therapy performed by a trained physical therapist at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation can help get you on the road to recovery and back to your normal activities without the pain.