You know that persistent pins and needles feeling in your arm? It may not just be your arm just “falling asleep.” And, if it’s occurring along with a tingling sensation in your arm and fingers, a chronically achy shoulder and neck, along with the weakening ability to grip firmly, this combination of symptoms is likely not a coincidence. In fact, they could be signs of thoracic outlet syndrome.
Many people who are suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome have never even heard the name before. Is it serious? Should you be concerned?
If you’re experiencing the symptoms and think you could have thoracic outlet syndrome, don’t panic! The good news is that most cases respond resoundingly well to conservative care intervention.
Let’s dive into what exactly this syndrome is, what causes it, and most importantly, how to alleviate the symptoms.
What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?
There are actually several types of thoracic outlet syndrome, but first, let’s talk about the thoracic outlet itself. The thoracic outlet is a small corridor that occupies the space between your first rib and your collarbone. Within this narrow pathway resides a tangle of blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. As you may suspect, this crowded hallway between your collarbone and rib can become irritated relatively easily when something goes awry. Which, brings us to the three types of thoracic outlet syndrome.
This is by far the most common type of thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) and has to do with nerve compression. What’s happening inside your body: the brachial plexus is a group of nerves that have control over small things like the feeling and movements within your shoulder, arm, and hand. The brachial plexus also happens to run from your spinal cord through your thoracic outlet, and when it becomes compressed, you’re likely to start feeling a tingling sensation through your arm and down through your fingers, along with pain in your shoulder or neck. You may also notice a weakened grip as a result of this type of TOS.
Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome has some of the same symptoms of neurological TOS, but certainly a different root cause. Vascular TOS occurs when a vein or artery under the collarbone becomes compressed and though tingling and numbness in the arm and hand can also characterize this variation, you may also notice some swelling in your arm, cold fingers, weakness in your arm, and even a bluish hue to your hand.
Causes and Treatment for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic outlet syndrome usually comes from repetitive motion. If you have a job or play a sport that requires an excessive amount of overhead reaching motion, you could be at a higher risk. Poor posture, like slouching, also puts repeated pressure on this area. And, in some cases, a traumatic event, such as a car accident, can also cause TOS, though be warned that it often takes a bit of time following the event for symptoms to start showing.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of TOS, it’s time to seek medical help. You will be best served to work with a professional who can not only diagnose what’s going on, but also give you personalized care recommendations. Not to mention, untreated cases of thoracic outlet syndrome could lead to permanent neurological damage. Bottom line: stay on top of your symptoms and don’t hesitate to reach out for the appropriate medical help.
That said, most cases of thoracic outlet syndrome respond very well to conservative care. Working with a medical professional on a personalized plan, physical therapy and rehabilitative exercises are the best course of treatment. A good plan will utilize exercises meant to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder. The intent is to improve your range of motion, open up the thoracic outlet area, and eventually remove pressure off of the compressed nerves, veins, or arteries. Even with a very high recovery rate from TOS, an individualized approach is necessary because of the differing aggravating factors.
How Chiropractic Can Help Treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Chiropractic treatment is a great conservative care option to help your healing process if you think you may be struggling with thoracic outlet syndrome. Because the symptoms of achiness and tingling in the arm and shoulder can also mimic other injuries, like a bulging disc, it’s especially important to get a correct diagnosis from a professional, like a chiropractor, to ensure you’re getting the right treatment.
Combined with rehabilitation exercises, chiropractic adjustments of the spine can be used in treating TOS by helping to alleviate some of the pressure and compression caused by thoracic outlet syndrome itself. These adjustments of the spine and extremities help to realign common misalignments that happen as a result of everyday life as well, which could also be impacting the severity of your thoracic outlet syndrome.
In addition to chiropractic adjustments, your practitioner can also provide guidance on proper rehabilitation exercises to perform at home. These personalized exercises will help you continue to address the root of your problem outside of a practitioner’s office and help to speed your recovery process.
Don’t push aside your arm or shoulder pain; prioritize your health now.