The thoracic outlet is a very important part of the human body. Located between the shoulder and neck, the thoracic outlet is home to some of our body’s most important arteries, nerves, and veins. If the thoracic outlet is injured, it could lead to the compression of one or more of these objects, resulting in pain, muscle weakness, and even the death of body tissue.
At the Thoracic Outlet Surgery Center of Excellence, our thoracic specialists are experts in identifying and treating the multiple forms of thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). If you have suffered an injury to the shoulder and are experiencing pain and reduced range of motion, it’s possible that TOS has developed. If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our thoracic surgeons, or if you merely have a few questions, please contact us today at 888.336.0998.Contact Us Now!
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Causes
Generally, thoracic outlet syndrome is caused by the compression of nerves and blood vessels located within the thoracic outlet. Depending on what specific portion of the thoracic outlet has been compressed, patients could develop one of two forms of thoracic outlet syndrome: neurogenic TOS or vascular TOS. Despite differences in symptoms, these two forms of TOS are both caused by pressure in the thoracic outlet. But why is the thoracic outlet compressed to begin with?
Compression within the thoracic outlet can be caused by a variety of conditions. Most often, the causes include the following:
- Anatomical defects: In certain cases, thoracic outlet syndrome can be caused by defects that are present at birth. The most common congenital defect that results in TOS is the presence of a cervical rib. A cervical rib is an extra rib located above a patient’s first rib. When this rib is present, it reduces the size of the thoracic outlet, making it easier for the nerves, arteries, and veins within the outlet to become compressed.
- Repetitive activities: Activities that require a person to perform the same motion over and over again can lead to the development of thoracic outlet syndrome. A job which involves a person continually stacking object above his or her head is a good example of what can cause TOS. Even continuous typing on a keyboard can be a risk factor for developing the condition. In addition, certain athletes can develop TOS after years of performing repetitive movements. Pitchers in baseball, for example, are at high risk of developing the disorder, as are golfers, swimmers, and more.
- Poor posture: Slouching and general poor posture can compress the thoracic outlet, placing pressure on the valuable arteries, nerves, and veins within. If you work at a desk, try sitting up straight instead of drooping your shoulders. This simple act can prove to be very valuable.
- Trauma: Traumatic injuries can as a car accident or shoulder injury can damage the thoracic outlet area of the shoulder. If the accident causes the compression of the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves, patients will experience a limited range of movement in the arms as well as numbness and swelling.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, a woman’s body changes in many ways. Sometimes, these changes can be damaging if not taken care of right away. During pregnancy, the natural loosening of joints can lead to the onset of thoracic outlet syndrome.
- Pressure on joints: Obesity and overweightness are risk factors for TOS. People who are overweight place much more pressure on their joints than others. This pressure can lead to compression within the thoracic outlet.
Other causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include sleep disorders, stress, weightlifting, and even tumors in the upper chest. If you are a good candidate for developing TOS, it’s important that you see a thoracic surgeon as soon as possible. Early treatment is very important when dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do I know if I have a cervical rib?
A: The presence of a cervical rib is a common cause of thoracic outlet syndrome. The most effective way to determine if you have a cervical rib is by contacting a thoracic specialist. This specialists can perform numerous tests, including x-rays and CT scans, to determine the presence of an extra rib in a patient.
Q: Is thoracic outlet syndrome serious?
A: If left untreated, TOS can cause very serious complications, including blood clots, permanent arm swelling, and even gangrene. The prevention of these conditions is why it’s so important to contact a thoracic surgeon as soon as possible. Though thoracic outlet syndrome isn’t entirely preventable, it is very treatable given enough time.
Schedule a Consultation with a Thoracic Specialist Today
The thoracic surgeons at the Thoracic Outlet Surgery Center of Excellence are dedicated to provided patients with relief from all forms of thoracic outlet syndrome. To schedule a consultation with one of our excellent surgeons, please call us today at 888.336.0998.
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