Is it Carpal Tunnel or Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

By Anna Platt

Have you ever had your fingers go numb or “fall asleep” on you for no obvious reason?  Did you think you might have carpal tunnel syndrome from too much work?  What about neck and chest pain?  Now, of course, it is always a good idea to make sure there is nothing serious wrong when these symptoms appear, but sometimes it is just a case of tight muscles.  The guilty muscles are usually the pectoralis minor or the scalenes.  Take a look at these pictures to get an idea of where these muscles are located.

The nerves and blood vessels for our arms pass through or under these muscles, so when the muscle is tight it pinches the nerve or partially cuts off blood flow to the arm.  That is what causes the symptoms I mentioned before.  When this happens, it is called “thoracic outlet syndrome”.   Go ahead and try to feel these muscles on yourself to see if they are tight.

If these muscles are tight, you may want to find a massage therapist who can work on them for you, but here are some ideas of stretches you can do yourself.  Always remember to stretch only until you feel a pull.  Stretching should not be painful.

  1. Tilt your head to one side as far as you can and try to touch your ear to your shoulder.  Use your hand to gently pull your head a little farther toward your shoulder and hold this stretch for 30 seconds.  Repeat on the other side.  Roll your head around slowly in a circle three times clockwise and three times counterclockwise.
  2. Lay on your back on a bed or couch and let one arm dangle off the side and up above your head.  Allow the weight of your arm to stretch out the front of your shoulder.  Hold this for 30 seconds and then place your hand on your shoulder like this while continuing to let your arm dangle.

Use the heel of your hand and put pressure on the pectoralis minor with it.  Slide up and out toward your shoulder socket slowly and with firm pressure.  Repeat this slide several times.  Move your arm around in a circle.  Repeat this on the other side.

  1. You can also stretch the pectoralis minor using a doorway.  Stand in the doorway and place your hands on the doorframe.  Lean forward until you feel a stretch and hold there for 30 seconds.  You can do this stretch one side at a time.

Doing these stretches before you go to sleep each night will help tremendously if you struggle with thoracic outlet syndrome.

Challenge:    try these stretches and tell us what you think!!!

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