Cold or Numb Hands? It Could be Thoracic Outlet Syndrome! Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Causes and Prevention


Have you heard of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)? If you suffer from numbness, tingling, swelling, and/or cold hands, TOS could be the cause. A few exercises for the upper body can help manage and prevent these problems.


What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome refers to a diagnosis that involves compression of the nerves, arteries, and veins in the lower neck and upper chest area. This compression can cause symptoms down the arm and into the hand. Numb hands, cold hands, swollen hands, or tingling pain in the hands could be among the symptoms of TOS.


Poor Posture and Other Causes of TOS

How do these areas become compressed? There are many reasons that people could experience Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, such as anatomical defects, trauma, and pregnancy, but the most common cause is poor posture. Unfortunately, many of us spend most days working in front of us. Forward posture results in increased tightness in your chest and neck muscles, which compress your nerves and vessels. The image below shows where the structures get pinched between your muscles and bones.

Diagnosing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

How do you know if you have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome? If you have the symptoms of tingling/numbness, swelling, or cold hands, you should address this with your physician. There could be other causes of the symptoms. 


If your doctor suspects TOS, the tests for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome include a nerve conduction study, Electromyography (EMG), or imaging to rule out or confirm the diagnosis. It is a difficult diagnosis to make, because it can be similar to other disorders, such as cervical disc disorder or carpal tunnel syndrome. Here are a list of some symptoms you may be experiencing if you have TOS:

  • Numbness or tingling in your arms or fingers

  • Pain or aches in neck, shoulder, arm, or hand

  • Weakened grip

  • Discoloration in your hand (redness or paleness)

  • Arm swelling

  • Cold fingers, hands, or arms

  • Weakened or no pulse in the affected arm


3 Postural Exercises for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

What can you do to prevent or decrease Thoracic Outlet symptoms? One of the best things you can do is work on your posture. Stretching the pectoral muscles and the muscles through the top part of the shoulder—these are the scalene muscles that go into the neck—can help relieve tightness at and around the muscles and bones in the upper arm. This should improve your posture and help you relieve neck pain, shoulder pain, hand pain, and TOS. 


1) Pec Stretch — By stretching and loosening tight pec muscles, you allow more space for the nerves and vessels to move through your arm. Hold your arms in a “goal post” position and step into a door or corner to stretch your chest. Hold 20-30 seconds.