What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

If you experience shooting pain in your arms or shoulders or numbness and tingling in your fingers, you may have thoracic outlet syndrome. This condition strikes millions of people and is mainly characterized by chronic pain in the upper limbs.

The thoracic outlet is the area on either side of your torso between your clavicles (collarbones) and first ribs. This area is home to some important blood vessels and concentrations of nerves, including the brachial plexus. If one or both of your thoracic outlets becomes damaged or irritated, thoracic outlet syndrome can result. Common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include:

  • Repetitive motion, such as during your occupation
  • Sports injuries
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Pregnancy
  • Congenital disorders like being born with extra ribs


The symptoms of these disorder range from mild to severe and include:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Pain in the arms, particularly the upper arms
  • Neck pain
  • Restricted motion of the neck or shoulders
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers

These symptoms may be present on only one side of your body or both sides.


Thoracic outlet syndrome is classified according to its root cause. There are two major types. Neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome is caused by compression of the brachial plexus. Patients with this type will often experience tingling and numbness in their fingers along with shooting pain in the arms, neck, or shoulders.

The other type is vascular thoracic outlet syndrome. This type is the result of vein or artery compression by the clavicle. As blood flow is restricted to the nerves and muscles near the thoracic outlet, pain and motor dysfunction occur.

Sometimes, there is no apparent reason for thoracic outlet syndrome symptoms. In such cases, pain, numbness, and dysfunction still exist, but the cause cannot be found.


While severe thoracic outlet syndrome may need surgical treatment, milder forms of the condition can often be addressed successfully with conservative measures. These efforts may include physical therapy, rest, heat and cold therapy, and chiropractic treatment.

If you are suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, your chiropractor may be able to help with adjustments designed to relieve pressure on blood vessels or nerves near your collarbone and brachial plexus. Licensed chiropractors are experts in anatomy, and they can often provide gentle manipulation to “open up” the thoracic outlet, relieving pain and restoring normal function.

Additionally, your chiropractor may recommend complementary treatments like massage, exercises, or topical (skin) therapies. Quicker treatment usually makes for better results. So, if you notice possible symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome, call your chiropractor right away.