4 Easy Exercises for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

man playing keyboard piano

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), commonly known as Musician’s Injury, is a group of disorders that occur when there is compression, injury, or irritation of the nerves and/or blood vessels (arteries and veins) in the lower neck and upper chest area, as these leave the chest cavity and to into the arm. The condition is named for the thoracic outlet — the space between your first rib and collar bone in your upper chest where the Brachial nerve and Subclavian blood vessels exit the chest and go into the arm. Learn about Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, its causes, symptoms and treatments, and ways you can prevent TOS from occurring or reoccurring, so you can minimize or eliminate any potential damage to your blood vessels and nerves.

Identifying Thoracic Outlet Syndrome can vastly improve treatment outcomes. We can diagnose this condition by raising your arm and feeling your pulse get softer or go away. In addition, it may be helpful to X-ray the affected area, and consider doing an ultrasound. Sometimes, we run a computerized tomography (CT) scan to obtain cross-sectional images of your body and identify the location and cause of blood vessel (vascular) compression.

Several non-invasive treatments for most types of TOS exist, physical therapy and a medication regiment of anti-inflammatories are often the first treatment your doctor will recommend. We suggest different treatment because the anti-inflammatory medications are dangerous and PT is less effective to release and loosen the tight fascia than other types of body work. We teach a home program of things you can do to help. In this way, you can be an active participant in your treatment, and even continue these exercises after your TOS has been remedied in order to prevent reoccurrence. Here are 4 standard exercises you can try to relieve the pain of thoracic outlet syndrome through simple exercises. If these don’t work, you will need more help.

Scalene Stretch

Sit or stand and clasp both hands behind your back. Lower your left shoulder as you tilt your head and stretch. Hold your stretch for 15 to 30 seconds — just enough to feel the stretch without causing undue pain to yourself. Do the same with your other shoulder with your neck pointed in the opposite direction. Repeat several times.

Stretching Against the Wall

One effective exercise for relieving compressed nerves in the shoulder and upper arms is to stand with your back against the wall, and your arms and wrists against the wall as well. Slide your arms upward as high as you can, keeping your wrists against the wall. Do two sets of 8 to 12.

Rowing Exercise

No, you don’t need a boat — though that might work too. Close the middle of elastic tubing in a door, or wrap it around an immovable object. Sit in a chair with your arm bent at 90 degrees. Hold one end of the tubing in each hand. Pull backward on the band, squeezing your shoulders together — keeping your forearms vertical and your elbows at shoulder level and bent 90 degrees. Do 2 sets of 15.

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