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Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Pronounced: tho-RASS-ik OUT-let SYN-drome
by Nathalie Smith, MSN, RN
The thoracic outlet is the area of the lower neck and upper chest. This area has a variety of nerves, blood vessels, muscles, and bones that run through a fairly small area. When the nerves and blood vessels of this area are compressed, irritated, or injured, they can cause a range of symptoms known as thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS).
Compression, injury, or irritation of nerves and blood vessels can be caused by:
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that may increase your chance of thoracic outlet syndrome include:
Thoracic outlet syndrome may cause the following:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
During an elevated arm stress test, your doctor will ask you to hold your arms and head in positions that may cause the thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) symptoms to reappear. The results of these tests will help determine whether you have TOS and rule out other possible related conditions.
Other tests may include:
Images of internal body structures may be taken with:
Treatment varies depending on your specific symptoms. In most cases, thoracic outlet syndrome is managed with pain medication and physical therapy.
Your doctor may recommend the following:
A physical therapist will design some exercises for you. The exercises will help to relieve symptoms by relaxing nearby muscles, improving posture, and reducing pressure on nerves and blood vessels.
Lifestyle Changes TOP
As part of your treatment, you may need to make lifestyle changes:
If other treatments fail, your doctor may recommend surgery. The goal of surgery is to move or remove the source of the compression. In some people, this may involve removing part or all of the first rib to make more room for the nerves and blood vessels.
There are no current guidelines to prevent thoracic outlet syndrome.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
The Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma (NISMAT)
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Thoracic outlet syndrome. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at:
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Updated January 2011. Accessed July 19, 2013.
Thoracic outlet syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated May 21, 2013. Accessed July 19, 2013.
Thoracic outlet syndrome. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 28, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2013.
Wehbe M, Leinberry C. Current trends in treatment of thoracic outlet syndrome. Hand Clin. 2004;20(1):119-121.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 6/2/2014
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