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Treatment for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a set of symptoms in the shoulder, arm, or hand. It occurs from a narrowing of the thoracic outlet. This is the space between your collarbone and your first rib. It can result from injury, disease, or a problem present from birth. Thoracic outlet syndrome is not common. It can occur in people of any age. 

Types of treatment

Treatments for thoracic outlet syndrome may include:

  • Physical therapy to help strengthen shoulder muscles, improve posture, and enlarge the thoracic outlet space

  • Over-the-counter pain medicine to relieve pain and swelling

  • Loss of excess weight

  • Changes to daily activities that bring on symptoms

These treatments relieve symptoms in most people. If you still have severe symptoms after trying these treatments, your healthcare provider may advise surgery. The type of surgery depends on the problems with your thoracic outlet. Surgery relieves symptoms in many people.

Possible complications of thoracic outlet syndrome

In some cases thoracic outlet syndrome can cause a blood clot to form in a vein in your arm. This blocks the flow of blood and may make your arm very swollen. The clot may also move to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. Or a clot can move somewhere else in the body. You may need to take blood-thinner medicine to prevent clotting. You may need a procedure to remove the clot using a thin tube (catheter) inserted through a vein.

A blood clot may also form in one of the arteries of your arm. This may cause sudden decrease in blood flow to your arm. The clot may be treated with blood thinners or a catheter inserted through an artery. In some cases, surgery may be done to remove the clot.

Living with thoracic outlet syndrome

There are things you can do to help prevent symptoms. Don’t put heavy bags over your shoulder. This increases pressure on the thoracic outlet. Also make sure to practice your physical therapy exercises. This will help keep your shoulder muscles strong.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Arm or hand that is suddenly cool, lighter in color, or swollen

  • Sudden weakness of your hand

  • Symptoms that don’t get better with therapy

© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.