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Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - Symptoms, Causes and Treatment By Heather Muir RMT

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is a common issue, being labeled as "bothersome" and "annoying" by many people. Symptoms of this syndrome include numbness and tingling in the hand or arm, localized pain, and even muscle weakness. (Rattray and Ludwig, 2000)

This condition involves compression of the brachial plexus - nerves exiting the neck that supply the arm - at one or more of three common locations. The brachial plexus exits the spine out the side of the neck and travels through muscles here. It then travels under the collar bone, then under muscles in the front of the shoulder and chest. (Rattray and Ludwig, 2000)

Tension in the primarily involved muscles can compress the plexus, leading to any of the aformentioned symptoms. Tension in these muscles can be caused by hyper irritable or sensitive spots within the muscle fibers, called Trigger Points. These Trigger Points also create pain referral patterns down the arm, into the chest, or between the shoulder blades. (Travell and Simons, 1993) It has been suggested that treating these Trigger Points can reduce the symptoms of TOS, and perhaps even reduce the compression occurring. (Muir, 2013)

Some of the most common causes of TOS are: prolonged poor positioning (at work or any other daily activity), poor posture, trauma (such as whiplash), pregnancy, improper breathing habits, or sleeping positions. (Rattray and Ludwig, 2000)

By taking a proper health history and performing special tests, your massage therapist can determine if there is a nerve compression leading to your symptoms, and approximately where it is. Speak to a Registered Massage Therapist today to detmine the best treatment plan for you. Treatment plans will include a type of therapy as well as specific stretches and changes to your daily activities. Such a plan helps to reduce the chance of the same issues recurring.

If you wish to read more about this condition, click the link below to read my full case study on this subject.

Heather Muir, RMT


Rattray F, Ludwig L. Clinical Massage Therapy: Understanding, Assessing and Treating over 70 Conditions. Elora, ON: Talus Incorporated; 2000

Travell J, Simons D. Travell & Simons' Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Vol. 2, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1993

Muir H. The Effects of Massage Therapy on a Professional Opera Singer with Chronic Pain and Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Vancouver, BC: Massage Therapists' Association of British Columbia; 2013

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