What are the biomechanics of thoracic outlet syndrome?

Updated: Jan 10, 2019
  • Author: Daryl A Rosenbaum, MD; Chief Editor: Sherwin SW Ho, MD  more...
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Thoracic outlet syndrome is most often seen in patients who engage in repetitive motions that place the shoulder at the extreme of abduction and external rotation. An example of such activity is swimming, especially with the freestyle stroke, butterfly stroke, and backstroke. When a swimmer reports tightness and pain around the shoulder, neck, and clavicle as his or her hand enters the water, thoracic outlet syndrome should be suspected.

In addition to swimmers, other athletes affected by thoracic outlet syndrome include water polo, baseball, and tennis players and athletes in any other activity that places repetitive stress on the shoulder at the extremes of abduction and external rotation. These individuals may present with neurologic and arterial or venous symptoms. Venous thoracic outlet syndrome most commonly develops in young male athletes in whom the upper extremity musculature is overdeveloped as a result of work or physical conditioning. Baseball players, whose sport requires repetitive throwing motions, are at increased risk for arterial thoracic outlet syndrome in their dominant arm.

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