OUTLET SYNDROME: Causes and Solutions

What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a group of conditions that arises from the compression or irritation of the nerves and/or blood vessels (called the ‘Thoracic Outlet’) that serve the arms.

Two categories of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome exist:

  • Vascular Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – compression of the blood vessels (2% of cases)
  • Neurological Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – compression of the nerves (98% of cases)

The structures most at risk of compression are the subclavian artery, subclavian vein and the brachial plexus (nerves serving the arms).

By English: Nicholas Zaorsky, M.D. (English: Nicholas Zaorsky, M.D.) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons / Cropped from original.

The above structures can become compressed at the following locations:

Causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

  • Poor posture such as Upper Crossed Syndrome (the linked article touches on this)
  • Anatomical defects such as a “cervical rib” (bony growth on vertebrae above first rib)
  • Physical trauma
  • Weight lifting
  • Weight gain


  • Numbness and/or tingling in the effected arm and/or hand
  • Arm, neck and shoulder pain on the effected side
  • Weakness in the effected arm and shoulder
  • Discoloration of the effected arm (vascular category)


In most cases of Thoracic outlet syndrome, conservative treatment is very effective. This consists of:

  • Thorough examination of physical influences such as posture, muscular imbalance etc.
  • Understanding of possible lifestyle influences such as work and sporting activities
  • Hands on treatment to relieve symptoms and assist with postural correction
  • Ergonomic desk setup advice where applicable
  • Individualised rehabilitation exercises where necessary

For some relevant self help advice watch my video to learn the stretch your neck properly