How is acute thoracic outlet syndrome treated?

Updated: Jan 10, 2019
  • Author: Daryl A Rosenbaum, MD; Chief Editor: Sherwin SW Ho, MD  more...
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Surgery in cases of thoracic outlet syndrome is indicated for acute vascular insufficiency and progressive neurologic dysfunction. For subclavian venous thrombosis, treatment addresses 3 problems: the clot, the extrinsic compression, and the intrinsic damage to the vein. [31, 32] Thrombolysis with urokinase is the most commonly recommended treatment, with continued anticoagulation for several months. The timing of surgical decompression is debated, but surgical decompression is needed for long-term improvement. [24, 33, 34] Patients with acute ischemia of the upper extremity require prompt diagnosis and surgical treatment. [35]

All other patients should receive nonoperative treatment that includes relative rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), cervicoscapular strengthening exercises, and modalities such as ultrasound, transcutaneous nerve stimulation, and biofeedback. Conservative care has been shown to be successful in most patients. [36, 37] In those patients in whom pain is refractory to conservative care, surgery should be considered.

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