doctor checking shoulder pain

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

If you have been experiencing pain in your neck and shoulders and numbness or weakness in your hands or fingers, you may be suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome. Thoracic outlet syndrome is an uncommon disorder that involves compression of nerves and/or blood vessels and/or in the space between your first rib and your collarbone, an area known as “the thoracic outlet.”

This problem is typically diagnosed in young adults between the ages of 20 and 40 and is far more likely to occur in females than males.

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, where we successfully treat a broad range of musculoskeletal disorders, thoracic outlet syndrome is right up our alley since we focus our nonsurgical treatments to relieve pain and improve mobility. In this case, one of our goals is also to restore complete sensation.

Causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome 

Thoracic outlet syndrome can result from a number of causes, including:

  • Trauma injury suffered in a car accident or sports activity
  • Anatomical defect, such as being born with an extra rib
  • Poor posture, e.g. drooping shoulders
  • Pregnancy or obesity since weight gain puts excessive pressure on your joints*
  • Repetitive stress (e.g. typing, working on an assembly line) 
  • Certain sports (swimmers and baseball pitchers are especially at risk) 

*Carrying a heavy backpack or other gear can cause the same problem

Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Three types of the syndrome have been classified: neurogenic (originating in the nerves), vascular (originating in the blood vessels), and nonspecific (of unknown origin). Symptoms vary depending on which nerves or blood vessels are being compressed.

vascular thoracic outlet syndrome can include:

  • Arm pain and swelling
  • Aches or pain in the neck and shoulders
  • Pallor or discoloration (blue) in fingers or hand
  • Weak pulse in the affected arm
  • Cold fingers, hands or arms
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • Weakness of arm, neck, or grip, fatigue with activity
  • Throbbing lump near your collarbone

Left untreated, the compression of thoracic outlet syndrome can result in worsening, debilitating weakness, muscle wasting, and even paralysis of the muscles that move the thumb and fingers.

Our dedicated doctors, trained to diagnose accurately, will determine and administer your best therapeutic options.

Diagnosis of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, we administer diagnostic tests that include not only imaging tests but “provocative tests,” in which our doctors manipulate the affected area to find the precise location of the problem. Imaging tests we use may include:

  • X-rays 
  • Ultrasound
  • CT or MRI scans 
  • Angiography
  • Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve conduction study (NCS)

Once we discover the exact area affected, and whether your condition involves nerve or blood vessel compression, we are well on the road to making you more comfortable and able to resume your normal activities.

How Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Can Help Help Heal Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Our offices are well-known for offering a variety of effective treatments, both traditional and complementary. In almost all cases, your condition can be resolved through some combination of:

  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy, including electrical stimulation, to restore strength and range of motion
  • Ultrasound-guided injections of a corticosteroid and analgesics to relieve pain and inflammation directly at the source

In rare instances in which surgical intervention may be necessary, our physiatrists will refer you to one of our well-respected surgical colleagues.

Think You May Have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome? Contact Us Today

If you are experiencing pain, weakness, or numbness in your arm or hand, or pain in your neck or shoulder, you may be suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome. If so, we will work efficiently and effectively to diagnose your problem, bring you relief, and restore your sense of well-being.