Unexplained Shoulder and Neck Pain? It Could Be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Get to the root of your pain sooner with help from your PT
By Luna
Unexplained Shoulder and Neck Pain? It Could Be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Are you feeling pain in your shoulder or neck that doesn’t seem to go away? Fatigue or tingling in your arms? This may be the result of something more serious than a pinched nerve or pulled muscle. It could be thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS).

TOS is named for the space between your lower neck and upper chest – the thoracic outlet. This condition occurs when the nerves or blood vessels in this space are compressed or irritated somewhere along the path from the spinal cord to the shoulder and arm. Although generally a rare condition, it is most common among athletes who participate in sports using repetitive arm movements such as swimming and baseball but could be a result of a variety of other factors as well. The most common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include:

  • Anatomical defects 
  • Poor posture 
  • Trauma
  • Repetitive activity
  • Joint pressure
  • Pregnancy

Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

There are three different types of TOS: neurogenic, venous, and arterial. The nerves are most commonly affected by this disorder, but it may also affect the veins and arteries. Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome equates to more than 95% of people afflicted with TOS. When the nerves are compressed, they can cause a range of symptoms that inhibit motor function and cause pain such as:

  • Numbness and tingling in the forearm and fingers
  • Pain in the neck, shoulder, arm, or hand
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Coldness in the fingers

The Long, Hard Journey of Misdiagnosis

Having shoulder or neck pain and weakness can be frustrating to deal with, especially if you haven’t been diagnosed properly. TOS can often be misdiagnosed because some of the symptoms overlap with other conditions. In some cases, it mirrors carpal tunnel syndrome. In others, the symptoms of fatigue and intensity of pain may be synonymous with fibromyalgia. Your doctor may recommend surgery or injections to treat your symptoms, but these treatments may not always offer you relief from the pain. Physical therapy is often recommended to treat TOS,  and more importantly, PTs can be a more effective option for assessing your symptoms and creating a proper treatment plan. 

Physical therapists can show you strengthening exercises and improve the flexibility of the pectoral muscles to release some of the compression in the thoracic outlet. Physical therapy can also promote good posture, decrease pain, and improve your range of motion. PT is a great way to prevent – whenever possible – any unnecessary surgeries or more aggressive procedures.

On-Demand PT with Luna

It is common with TOS to also experience fatigue, weakness, and swelling in your upper extremities -- and this can make daily life challenging. If left untreated, the symptoms may progress, making simple tasks such as cooking or folding laundry difficult and painful. Getting to a clinic for your PT session can become strenuous and too difficult. 

With Luna’s on-demand physical therapy, we remove that barrier to treatment. Your PT will come to your home and work towards designing a program that is easy to follow that will have impactful results. When your PT is able to treat you at home, it’s not only easier for you to get access to the treatment you need, but your PT will be able to assess your environment for any areas that could potentially create problems and recommend modifications. 

We want you to get back to doing the activities you love most and have the relief to focus more on your 2020 New Year’s resolutions.

Get to the root of your pain sooner with help from a PT.
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