What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome is one of a group of conditions that make up the condition called repetitive strain injury. Repetitive strain injury is the condition given to pain caused by repeating the same movement frequently causing stress to the particular part of the body carrying out the movement.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is more specific and only affects the region between the base of the neck and the armpit. Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that are very difficult to define especially as they only affect the region between the armpit and base of the neck but symptoms can start in the head, neck and chest. The chest symptoms are difficult to diagnose, as they are very similar to those suffered with angina.

Getting Technical

Thoracic outlet syndrome affects the nerves in the brachial plexus; the brachial plexus is a group of nerve fibers that run from the upper back via the neck and armpit into the arm, they also affect many nerves and blood vessels between the axilla (armpit) and the neck.

The condition is mainly caused by compression on a few arteries and veins in the upper region of the body like the vertebral artery and the subclavical arteries and veins, the compression can also affect the nerve cords based in the brachial plexus.

Categorizing thoracic outlet syndrome further

What may surprise you further is that the condition called thoracic outlet syndrome can be categorized further because it is such a difficult, complex syndrome to define.

Thoracic outlet syndrome can be split into five disputed categories, which are stated below.


As the category states this is caused by trauma to the body or carrying out the same movement repetitively, this category can be made worse through poor posture. The symptoms for traumatic thoracic outlet syndrome can affect every extremity in the body.


The subclavical vein becoming compressed causes this category; it often appears without warning and affects women and men alike without discrimination.


This is rare and is caused by a condition apparent from birth; it normally affects one side of the body and causes pains in the fingers.


This is another category that is caused due to conditions at birth; this category normally affects one side of the body and is most common in middle-aged females. The symptoms include numbness in the hand but in long term cases the muscles actually waste away.


This category is called disputed as medical scientists constantly dispute it. The scientists believe it is caused by injury to the nerves in the brachial plexus and carries a lot of pain as the symptom. There is not too much more to say about this category as it is still being disputed there is no other hard evidence to mention.

Final thoughts

Like a lot of the syndromes that cause repetitive strain injury there is a lot of dispute over some of the symptoms and their diagnoses. The problem appears because of the complexity of the disorders, and this is why they have been grouped under the umbrella of the condition called repetitive strain disorder.