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Who is at Risk for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

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Question: Who is at Risk for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?
Answer: Thoracic Outlet Syndrome often has multiple instigating factors. A single cause of thoracic outlet syndrome is usually not enough to bring on continual episodes of thoracic compression. Causes are usually layered upon each other or coupled with risk factors to bring thoracic compression to a noticeable level.

Several factors that heighten your chances for developing thoracic outlet syndrome exist. The same anatomical anomalies that can cause thoracic outlet syndrome may also be a risk factor. If the anomaly is not pronounced enough to cause the thoracic compression in its own right it may support a cumulative effect with other causes.

If you have one of these anatomical anomalies or have been diagnosed with one of the issues that can lead to neurovascular entrapment you are at risk for developing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Anatomical Anomalies the Increase Risk for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome are:

  • Abnormal Scalene Triangle
  • Cervical Rib
  • Fibro-muscular Band
  • Elongated Transverse Process of C7

Conditions That Can Lead to Neurovascular Entrapment are:

  • Scalene Hypertrophy - an enlargement of the scalene muscles (those around the thoracic outlet)
  • Fibrosis - hard, scar like structures
  • Exostosis - a build up of new bone on the surface of existing bone

Other Risk Factors

Poor posture is perhaps the greatest risk factor that is under your control. Hunching your back, dropping your shoulders, holding your head and neck forward and generally having poor posture without a healthy S-curve to your back creates prime conditions within your thoracic opening to compress all that vital plumbing.

Some additional risk factors for developing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome include mended bones that create the thoracic outlet, the collar bone and the first rib. When the bone knits itself back together it can often end up thicker where it was once broken. That additional thickness reduces the space within the thoracic outlet for the subclavian artery, subclavian vein, and brachial plexus to pass through.

Age is another risk factor. The normal wear and tear on the body, especially if you work with a static posture most of the time (like assembly line work or computer work) starts to significantly affect your posture once the vigor of youth declines. Many people who develop Thoracic Outlet Syndrome first see symptoms beginning between 30 and 40 years of age.

Neck spasms can heighten your risk for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. If you are prone to neck spasms you may compensate with a postural adjustment that can compress the thoracic outlet syndrome Osteoporosis or other degenerative conditions heighten your risk for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome with the damage they can do to your posture. Degeneration of bone and/or muscle strength leads to poor posture and that is a risk for thoracic compression.

A static posture is one that is held for a significant period of time without much movement. Static postures are often seen with shift work, assembly line work, computer work or anything else repetitive without much activity. If you stand or sit in one place only moving your arms most of your body is in a static posture. Static posture can irritate and inflame tissue surrounding the thoracic outlet as well as cause poor posture providing a double dose of heightened risk for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

Obesity increases risk in much the same way as a static posture. All that extra weight can cause posture problems and obese people tend to have chronic inflammation throughout their bodies.

Pregnancy raises your risk for a number of repetitive stress injuries including Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. When you are pregnant you become more flexible to allow for the birth of the baby. Your joints become looser. This can cause posture issues, as well as carrying around the extra weight.

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