11 Symptoms Of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a set of conditions that cause the nerves and blood vessels to compress by the rib, collarbone, or neck muscles at the top of the thoracic outlet.

There are different types of TOS:

  • Neurogenic – the most common type of thoracic outlet syndrome that affects the brachial plexus, a set of nerves in the spinal cord that controls muscle movements and sensations in the hands, arms, and shoulders.
  • Vascular – has three subcategories, which involve the compression of either the veins (venous) and the arteries (arterial).

Each type has its own set of symptoms…

1. Gilliatt-Sumner Hand

The thoracic outlet syndromes: Part 1. Overview of the thoracic outlet  syndromes and review of true neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome - Ferrante  - 2017 - Muscle & Nerve - Wiley Online Library
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This is one of the primary and unsightly symptoms of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. Having a Gilliatt-Sumner hand causes severe deterioration in the fleshy base of the patient’s thumb.

Having this condition can be quite a handful…

2. Numbness

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Patients with neurogenic TOS frequently experience numbness or tingling in the arm, hand, and up to the fingers. This can cause discomfort and reduce one’s use of their arms.

Getting a grip with TOS literally won’t happen…

3. Weakening Grip

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As a result of the problems with the hands and fingers, patients are typically unable to maintain a grip on objects and have overall trouble with dexterity. This can make manual work almost impossible.

The pain, unfortunately, can travel further up the body…

4. Pain In The Neck And Shoulders

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Aside from pain in the hand, one may occasionally feel aching in the arms that eventually goes up the shoulders and the neck. This happens as a result of nerve compression in the spinal cord.

TOC can leave your body swollen, too…

5. Edema

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If a patient suffers from venous thoracic outlet symptoms, they may experience swelling in the arm, hand, or fingers. This is due to a possible blood clot in either arm’s veins, interrupting blood flow

You might even notice a slight change in the way your hand looks, as the following symptom explains…

6. Hand Discoloration

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Another obvious symptom of venous TOS is the discoloration of the hands and fingers. They usually become blue, reddish, or sometimes even white or pale.

More physical sensations can follow…

7. Painful Tingling Sensations

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Like with neurogenic TOS, venous TOS also causes occasional tingling in the hand. The only difference with the venous type is that the tingling sensations extend to the arm and cause extreme pain.

Here’s a symptom that’s hard to hide…

8. Visible Veins

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As its name suggests, venous TOS causes prominent veins in the shoulder, neck, and hand. This is especially true after strenuous activities that involve lots of physical strength.

Some things become chillier to the touch with TOS…

9. Cold Hands

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Having cold and pale hands and forearms is usually seen in cases of arterial thoracic outlet syndrome. Like venous TOS-induced edema and hand discoloration, this condition is also linked to poor blood circulation.

Playing your favorite ball games becomes torture with TOS…

10. Claudication

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Pain and occasional cramping of the forearm are common for people suffering from arterial TOS. This is triggered by frequent activity that involves overhead motion such as lifting weights, playing volleyball or basketball, and other over-the-shoulder exercises.

Blockages are never a good thing, but they can happen…

11. Embolism 

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Pulmonary embolism of an artery located in the hand or arm due to chronic nerve compression occurs as a serious complication. This is a symptom that requires immediate medical attention.

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