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It is no secret that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to health problems. Many people know the importance of exercise but, for some reason, still, find excuses not to engage in physical activity. This article aims to help provide an overview of thoracic outlet syndrome and its potential causes, as well as exercises that can be performed to help relieve symptoms.

An Overview of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is an umbrella term for disorders when nerves and blood vessels become compressed in the thoracic outlet area. The thoracic outlet is located near the base of your neck and holds several blood vessels, and a bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus. When these passageways are constricted, symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling, headaches and cold arms may arise.

TOS can be caused by physical trauma to the area or compression from poor posture and anatomic defects. Overuse injuries from heavy lifting or poor stretching habits can also contribute to TOS development. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to alleviate symptoms associated with the disorder. However, with proper care and attention, many people can manage their condition without invasive procedures.

The Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) is a collection of symptoms involving the structures near the thoracic outlet, which is the area between the lower neck and upper chest. These symptoms can include pain and feelings of numbness or tingle in the shoulder, hand, arm, neck, and occasionally in other parts of the body. In some cases, it can also cause reduced strength or difficulties with fine motor coordination in those areas, in addition to headaches, swelling, and visible veins in the affected arm.

Treatments for TOS can vary depending on its severity and etiology. Therefore, an accurate diagnosis by a healthcare professional is essential to identifying the nature and extent of this condition to determine an appropriate treatment plan.

The Causes of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

It is due to one or more of three main causes: trauma, repetitive activities, and a congenital abnormality. For example, trauma such as falls, playing contact sports without proper protection, or car accidents can cause TOS. In addition, certain arm motions used for long periods, such as lifting boxes over the head or typing on a computer all day, may irritate both the vein and nerve coming from the neck, causing irritation that can lead to symptoms of TOS.

Finally, some individuals may have an extra rib that grows from their neck bone, blocking off hormone flow which causes constriction of tissue leading to thoracic outlet syndrome. Although anyone can get TOS, it is most common among athletes and desk job workers who use repetitive motion activities in their daily routines.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from TOS?

The duration of recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome varies depending on the condition’s severity and cause. Mild cases can be resolved with rest and specific exercises, which help strengthen muscles, improve posture, and reduce strain in the affected area. These exercises typically focus on stretching tight muscles, improving muscle mobility and flexibility, and releasing tension in the chest and shoulder area.

In more severe cases, medical intervention may be necessary. For example, surgery is sometimes recommended to relieve constriction of nerves and vessels in the thoracic outlet. Other treatments, such as physical therapy or medications, can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

5 Exercises for Relieving the Symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Seated Chin Tuck

This exercise is designed to improve the flexibility of your neck and shoulder muscles. Begin by sitting straight in a chair with your hands resting on the armrests. Then, slowly tuck your chin towards your chest, lifting the back of your head slightly off the chair. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then return to the starting point.

Supine Pec Stretch with a Foam Roller

While you are lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor, place a foam roller under your upper back. Lift your hips off the ground and arch your upper back over the roller. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds before slowly releasing and returning to starting position.

Quadruped Scapula Push-Up

Kneeling with your hands and knees on the ground, tuck your elbows against your sides, and draw your shoulder blades together. Then, slowly press up through your hands and arms, lifting your upper back off the ground as you do so. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds before lowering back down to starting point.

Neck Stretching

Standing with your feet hip-width apart, tilt your head and ear to one side. Place your hand on the opposite side of your head and gently guide it towards the shoulder. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds before repeating it on the other side.

Ulnar Nerve Sliders

Stand with your arms hanging at your sides and place your thumb on top of the little finger of the same hand. Slowly slide your thumb up and down, stretching the ulnar nerve throughout its course. Perform this exercise for 10-15 repetitions before switching sides.


By performing these exercises regularly, you can help alleviate symptoms of TOS and get back to your regular activities. However, you must consult a healthcare professional if you experience pain or worsening symptoms. With the correct diagnosis and treatment plan, recovery from TOS can be achieved in as little as a few weeks for mild cases or up to several months for more severe cases.

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