Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - Physiotherapy Exercises for a Full Recovery

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is usually the result of a severe blow to the neck from a road, sporting or other accident.  The trauma causes compression of the nerves or blood vessels in the area between the base of the neck and the armpit – the thoracic outlet.

The swelling reduces the diameter of the thoracic outlet ‘tube' and restricts blood flow causing pain in the neck, shoulder and arm/s.  The symptoms may also include tingling, numbing or discolouration owing to the lack of oxygen getting through to the hands.


The doctor will make a physical examination, ask about your symptoms and then make electrical and radiology tests to confirm a diagnosis of TOS.


In the majority of cases the treatment is physical therapy exercises and posture correction under the close supervision of a highly trained physiotherapist.  Only in rare cases is surgery required to open the thoracic outlet.

Posture and rest

The therapist will advise you to avoid spending a long time with your arms held out or above your head.  For instance, you shouldn't sleep with an arm/s extended up past your head.  You should also avoid lifting heavy objects repeatedly.

In addition, you may need to take rest periods at work to deal with an increase in daytime tiredness.  Obese people can greatly speed up their recovery by losing weight and this is something you can discuss with your physio for advice about walking exercise.

Physiotherapy exercises

Physiotherapists are specially trained in the treatment techniques for thoracic outlet syndrome and the physio's evaluation of your condition is an important part of your treatment plan. Physiotherapy includes a variety of exercises, done with and without weights in your hands that effectively open the tissues of the thoracic outlet.

The physio may also use massage, gentle stretching, manipulation and heat treatment or ultrasound to reduce inflammation and pain.  These techniques also help you regain the full range of joint movement in the affected area.

Home fitness

It's important that you continue the exercises at home or work in order to make a complete recovery.   For example, exercises such as shoulder-shrugs can be done anywhere and are an excellent way to relax the muscles around the thoracic outlet for a healthy blood flow.

Physiotherapy for thoracic outlet syndrome is a very successful treatment in the vast majority of cases and you'll probably end up fitter than you were before your accident!

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