Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Treatments - Pursuit Physical Therapy
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THORACIC OUTLET SYNDROME

Are you not able to continue your cherished hobbies or everyday activities because of sharp pain in your shoulder when you move? With our expert doctors’ help, you can get to the root of your symptoms and get back to doing what you love quicker and easier.

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Best Orlando Treatment for a

THORACIC OUTLET SYNDROME

Are you not able to continue your cherished hobbies or everyday activities because of sharp pain in your shoulder when you move? With our expert doctors’ help, you can get to the root of your symptoms and get back to doing what you love quicker and easier.

Read More Ask A Question

Here Is Everything You Need To Know About Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, What Causes It, and The Best Way to Treat It

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What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is a potentially painful and disabling condition of the upper extremity. It results from the compression of structures in the thoracic outlet, a space just above the first rib, and behind the clavicle (collar bone). Due to the range of signs and symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of TOS, the incidence rates of the condition currently are unknown. Physical therapists work with individuals who have TOS to ease their symptoms and restore their upper-body function.

What are common causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

 

  • Poor posture
  • Neck tightness
  • Rounded shoulders
  • Tight pec muscles
  • Vascular problems
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Where does it hurt?

In most common cases of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, patients report numbness and tingling symptoms on one or both arms with certain prolonged postures. It often feels like your arms are falling asleep when sleeping on your side. This is the most common symptom reported in minor cases. More complex cases will report one sided neck pain with clavicular pain, and random symptoms of pain, numbness and tingling, and burning arm pain down the same side. Sometimes, a herniated disc in the neck can cause pain to radiate into the arm making this a difficult diagnosis. Because of this, it’s possible to feel pain of an injury in other parts of your body. This is called referred pain. Understanding the root cause of your pain is fundamental to treating your pain in the long run & will decrease your dependence on painkillers or treatment that only addresses the symptoms.

What are common symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Because TOS generally is classified based upon the type of structures compressed, the symptoms experienced may vary. However, more than 90% of TOS cases are thought to be neurogenic (nerve compression) in nature (categories 3 and 4 below).

Arterial TOS

  • Pain in the hand; rarely in shoulder or neck
  • Coldness or cold intolerance
  • Numbness and tingling

Venous TOS

  • Pain in the arm
  • Swelling in the arm
  • Change in arm coloration (appears bluish)
  • Feeling of heaviness in the arm
  • Numbness and tingling in fingers and hands

True Neurogenic TOS

  • Pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand, arm, shoulder, and often the neck
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling of the arm, often waking the individual up at night
  • Hand clumsiness
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Hand coldness and color changes

Disputed Neurogenic TOS

  • Pain, numbness and tingling in the hand, arm, shoulder and often the neck
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling of the arm, often waking the individual up at night
  • Hand clumsiness
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Hand coldness and color changes
  • Symptoms greater at night vs day
  • Tests may come back normal (hence, the term “disputed”).

Learn how to get rid of your shoulder pain

Sign up for our free webinar when we break down 3 actual patient cases and show you, exactly, how we got them pain free.

We’ll show you:

  • The most common cases of shoulder pain
  • How some shoulder pain can be commonly misdiagnosed
  • How to tell what type of shoulder pain you have
  • Self treatment that you can try at home

Can Thoracic Outlet Syndrome be treated?

Yes, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome pain can be treated and with great results. Even better, many times it can be treated conservatively without needing injections, pain medications, or surgeries if you catch it early enough. The key to treatment is to solve the root cause of your pain so you can get the best results and long-term outcome.

Some root causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome can be:

  • Decreased neck and mid back range of motion
  • Rounded shoulder posture
  • Weak mid back and shoulder blade muscles
  • 1st rib problems
  • Tight neck and pec muscles
  • Poor shoulder biomechanics
  • Decreased mid back rotation
  • Poor workplace ergonomics

If you have failed multiple treatment approaches already, your clinician missed the real root cause of your pain and was just chasing the symptoms. The pain or symptom is the effect, not the cause. What do I mean by this? Say your fire alarm goes off in your house. Its purpose is to protect you and make you aware that something is wrong, i.e., that there is a fire in your house. The “alarm” is like your pain (your body’s way of telling your something is wrong) and the “fire” is the root cause. When the fire alarm goes off, you don’t run upstairs and just turn it off, right? You run through the house with the fire extinguisher, trying to find the room where the fire is at. You try to find out what caused the alarm to go off so you can put it out. Once the fire is out, then the fire alarm can go off. Solve the “root” cause of your pain, and then the pain (“the effect”) eventually goes away.

Additionally, there is a common root cause which many clinicians misdiagnose. They treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome with a cookie cutter approach, hoping it will work, and treat it as a simple muscle problem. They tend to rely on stretching, ultrasound, massage, and focus treatment directly on the neck and shoulder area. However, often the root cause is missed and the symptoms return. Many clinicians misdiagnose this and treat it as neck pain and they never get any pain relief. So many healthcare clinicians treat pain like this and thus show poor treatment outcomes which results in the pain coming back. Why? They missed the root cause of your neck and shoulder pain. This is also the case when patients turn to injections, nerve blocks and other surgeries which are still not effective because the actual problem still is not solved, their treatment was just chasing the pain.

The first step in treatment is to identify the root cause of your pain. A specific and individualized treatment approach for your type of pain can lead to a successful outcome for you and resolve your symptoms for the long term. This is why you can’t rely on a standard cookie cutter approach; you need a customized and individualized treatment approach specifically for your type of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome pain.

“On my first visit with Ron, he did a thorough evaluation and identified the underlying issue with my shoulder. […] Within a week, the pain in my shoulder was significantly decreased. […] What’s been amazing is that I’m realizing how much I’d been accommodating a reduced range of motion and pain in my shoulder for who knows how long! Bottom line: I highly recommend Ron and Pursuit Physical Therapy.

What happens if it goes untreated?

Minor case – If it is a minor case of pain from thoracic outlet syndrome, research shows that many acute cases of pain may spontaneously go away in 4-8 weeks. The key is where is the compression occurring at the thoracic outlet? This is essential for a good outcome. But who wants to wait 8 weeks to get pain free? Let’s try to solve the root cause of your pain in 2-3 weeks and address all of the risk factors present (so it never returns!) and get you back to your favorite activities faster! We still recommend that you get it checked out by one of our board-certified physical therapists to ensure that it is just a minor case, to solve all risk factors, and to get the optimal outcome in the fewest visits needed. Most minor cases resolve on their own in time or get better with some stretching and strengthening. But, the sooner you take action, the sooner you are pain-free. (And research supports this!)

Severe case – If it’s more of a severe and chronic case of pain from thoracic outlet syndrome, your pain will probably start to worsen and increase because the root cause of the pain is not being treated. Many people turn to pain medication at this time but this only blocks the pain for short term. You may not feel the pain when taking pain medications, but the underlying problem is still there. Many people say after the pain medication is stopped, then usually the pain returns and sometimes it returns even worse. This makes it a more complex and annoying injury. You will start to notice squeezing your shoulder blades, your symptoms will increase and you may get pain into your neck and shoulder. If it continues to worsen, then numbness, tingling, and burning pain may shoot into your arm and hand. Even though it’s more chronic now, we can still help. Once the root cause and all risk factors are addressed, then we can start decreasing your pain, regardless of how chronic and severe the pain is. This is the crucial first step. It just may take more time to recover from a chronic case. Usually with chronic and severe cases, the longer you have your pain and injury, the longer it takes to resolve.

What outcome can you expect from treatment?

As we’ve discussed, the first step is to solve the root cause of your thoracic outlet syndrome pain. This is the most essential step to plan a treatment specialized for you and your unique type of pain. Your root cause will guide your treatment and dictate what is the best way to treat your pain. This, along with identifying risk factors that may be predisposing you to have your pain and injury, will allow you to start getting pain free again. The next step is to start decreasing pain, modifying activities, and start addressing all of the impairments causing your pain which we discovered during your evaluation. With each session, pain should start to decrease and you should start to regain range of motion with less pain and symptoms. Any radicular and referred pain should resolve fast as well. At this point, we begin light and basic strengthening only if it does not increase pain. Treatment will consist of a lot of manual therapy and light exercises.

The next step is to achieve full range of motion, (which should correlate to being pain-free) and now we can start progressive strengthening. Strengthening the muscles is crucial and research shows that this gives you the best long-term outcome! As you start to get stronger and maintain your mobility, your pain will continue to decrease if it is not already gone. Your increased strength will allow you to perform more activities and prevent flare-ups. This usually does take up to 4 weeks. As you clear our goals, then we can start easing you back into sport, golf, running, and whatever your favorite activities are. This is when we start winding down treatments and getting you back into functional strengthening, sport specific training, return to run programs, golfing, and whatever your goals are. In the end, we reassess everything, making sure we achieved all of our goals, your goals, that all risk factors are gone, and finalize your long-term home exercise program. There are many factors which can influence your outcome, but 85-90% of our patients respond well to our treatment approach and achieve a successful outcome when completing their plan of care.

Learn how to get rid of your shoulder pain

Sign up for our free webinar when we break down 3 actual patient cases and show you, exactly, how we got them pain free.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis of TOS begins with a thorough health history and clinical examination.

Your physical therapist will likely check for color changes in the affected area, and gently attempt to provoke symptoms by moving the affected limb in different directions.

You also may be referred for diagnostic testing, such as a Doppler ultrasound, which can confirm arterial and venous TOS, or nerve conduction velocity testing to help confirm a true neurogenic TOS.

Your physical therapist may be the first to recognize an onset of TOS, because of its effects on your physical function. Your physical therapist may ask you:

    • When did you begin experiencing these symptoms, and when are they the worst?
    • Have you noticed any change in your symptoms when the temperature changes?
    • Have you noticed any significant changes in your ability to perform physical tasks that require hand movements?
    • Have you noticed any changes in the appearance of your arm or hand?

In addition, your physical therapist will rule out other conditions, which may mimic this disorder. Your therapist may ask you to fill out a questionnaire in order to better understand your physical state, and to screen for the presence of other conditions.

Do you need an X-ray and MRI imaging for thoracic outlet syndrome?

For most common orthopedic cases, imaging is not needed and the diagnosis can be made with a simple physical therapy evaluation. No need to waste thousands of dollars on unwarranted diagnostic imaging. We also have clinical tests which we can perform to help rule in and rule out pathologies that correlate to MRI findings (which is WAY cheaper than an MRI!). An expensive MRI may just tell us what we already know. Also, often times the positive findings found on x-rays, MRIs, and EMGs may not actually be the root cause of your pain. What does that mean? Many positive findings on an MRI are also found in asymptomatic (pain-free) individuals, so diagnostic imaging may not be able to tell us what is actually causing your pain. For example: many people have a herniated disc in their low back but do not have any low back pain. So if herniated discs can cause no pain, just because someone with low back pain has a herniated disc does not mean that is what’s causing their pain. The key is to find out if your clinical evaluation findings during your evaluation at Pursuit match the MRI findings. If so, then we can decide what is the best way to treat it.

How can a Physical Therapist treat it?

Once you have received a diagnosis of TOS, your physical therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help ease the discomfort, and improve your ability to perform daily activities. Most research on this condition recommends a treatment plan that involves physical therapy to help ease your symptoms and improve function.

Physical therapy treatments may include:

Manual Therapy. Manual (hands-on) therapy may be applied to manipulate or mobilize the nerves of the arm to help reduce symptoms, such as pain and numbness/tingling. Your physical therapist also may attempt to gently mobilize your first rib and/or collar bone.

Movement and Strengthening Exercises. Your physical therapist will teach you muscle-strengthening exercises to improve movement and strength in the affected area.

Education. Your physical therapist will teach you strategies that can help minimize your symptoms while performing your daily functional activities.

Activity modification and postural strategies: Your physical therapist will teach you positions and strategies to place less stress on the structures involved with TOS.

“After at least three years of doctor-hopping […] looking for someone to alleviate my constant dizziness and neck pain, I finally found Dr. Miller. I have more energy and less pain, and have halved my dependence on painkillers. He shouldn’t be the last stop on your road to recovery, he should be the first.”

How long does it take for a recovery?

Recovery time for thoracic outlet syndrome depends on multiple factors:

  • The severity and chronicity of your pain
  • Whether your pain is an easy or complex case
  • If the root cause of your pain was solved or if it was missed (this is the key to getting a great recovery!)
  • How long you have been in pain for and when you need to be pain-free by
  • Other therapies and treatments you have tried
  • Which medical professional(s) you saw prior to seeing us
  • How active you are in trying to resolve your pain
  • Which treatment approach is chosen and if it is proven to work for your pain

There are many factors that influence your recovery time and every patient’s recovery time is different. If you do nothing and don’t pursue treatment, it could gradually get better on its own, you could continue to have the same pain persist, or it could continue to get worse. As stated earlier, most acute cases may or may not resolve in 4-8 weeks. If you get expert treatment that solves the root cause of your pain, some cases resolve in 1-3 weeks! Then you can get back to sports, exercise, and your favorite activities without flare-ups and recurrences. Some of our patients are pain-free in 1-3 visits and back to 100% in 2 weeks!

If it is a complex case with chronic pain, your recovery may take longer, but you can still get a good outcome. Some chronic cases can resolve as fast as 2 months but can take as long as 4-6 months. It varies with every patient because every case of thoracic outlet syndrome is different. Every patient’s recovery varies depending on the factors listed above. After a thorough evaluation here at Pursuit Physical Therapy, you will know your exact timeline of recovery, your prognosis, and when you should reach your goals.

How much does it cost?

The average cost of care for a case of spine pain in the US is $1800-$6600. This high price is due to many factors: the over-inflated cost of healthcare, the over expensive cost of unwarranted imaging (x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs) that is not needed, over-utilization of care (which increases the number of visits needed to be treated, requiring multiple visits to different doctors and physical therapists for the same diagnosis), and getting billed for unnecessary and unproven treatments that you don’t even need. All of these factors increase cost and this is why healthcare is so expensive. We strive to end that unnecessary, expensive cycle. In fact, we are currently publishing our first-year data with the University of Central Florida that shows the cost-effectiveness of our treatment approach.

This year, the average cost of our care was shown to be $814-$1141. Some of our patients get even as low as $315 for the full treatment! So if you have a deductible of $3,000-$10,000 and you have to pay out of pocket for your treatment, we can save you lots of money.

Remember, every case of pain is different and not all cases of thoracic outlet syndrome are the same. It is hard to predict exactly how much your treatment is going to cost you. But after a thorough evaluation, we can tell you exactly what is causing your pain, how long it is going to take, what the best way to treat it will be, and exactly how much it is going to cost. We have no hidden fees, no co-pays, and no miscellaneous bills that you will be surprised by 3 months after you receive treatment. Your pain, your diagnosis, your goals, and what is best for you dictate your treatment and how much it will cost, and while it varies for every patient, treatment at Pursuit is still much more affordable than standard healthcare.

How long are sessions?

Our evaluations are always one-on-one with one of our board-certified specialists and 60-90 minutes long. We like to perform thorough evaluations so we can solve the root cause of your pain, identify all risk factors, and make sure that we do it right. After the evaluation, you will know your diagnosis, the root cause of why you have your pain and symptoms, your prognosis, an expected timeline of when you should see results, what the best way to treat your pain is, how much it will cost, and your expected recovery outcome. We want you to fully understand everything about your pain and injury. What is best for you and will get you the best outcome is what will dictate your care and treatment. There will be plenty of time for you to ask questions so we can make sure you fully understand why you have your pain and what the best way to treat it will be. After the evaluation is completed, all treatment sessions are 60 minutes going forward and still one-on-one with your physical therapist. You and your physical therapist will design a customized treatment plan that works for you and that will achieve your goals.

How can it be prevented?

While some cases of TOS cannot be prevented, such as those due to anatomical variations, congenital conditions, trauma, or space-occupying lesions, others may be avoidable. Understanding risk factors that could make you more likely to develop this condition is the first step in prevention.

Your physical therapist will work with you to develop strategies to help you better understand and manage your risk factors and symptoms. As with many conditions, education is key. Understanding strategies, such as methods of reducing symptoms while performing activities, can help you live a full and functional life after the onset of TOS.

What are next steps?

Getting started is simple. The first step, and the key to getting you pain free again, is to solve the root cause or your case of pain. Remember, not all pain is the same. Your pain is different than someone else’s pain, even though it may be in the same area. If you’re ready to get pain free, give us a call at (407) 494-8835 or fill out the form below. The next step is to schedule your evaluation so we can solve the root cause for you. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have and we would love the opportunity to help you.

BECOMING PAINFREE  IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK

Step 1:

Call our expert team.

Step 2:

We’ll work with you to find and treat the root of your pain.

Step 3:

Get back to doing what you love.

Call us to schedule your appointment

(407) 494-8835
(407) 494-8835

Ask one of our Board Certified Specialists a question about your pain. Just fill out the form below.