What is Going on With my Arm? - Breakaway Physical Therapy
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What is Going on With my Arm?

  • Did you start having problems with your shoulder and arm after working from home?
    • Pain or weakness in your shoulder or arm?

    • Numbness or tingling in your fingers?

  • Have you spent quarantine time filled with a makeshift office at home?
  • Are you now having a difficult time reaching overhead or does your arm feel heavy?
  • Is your sleep disturbed by pain, numbness or tingling in your arm that’s waking you up at night?

If any or several of these situations sound familiar, you may be experiencing symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).

What is TOS?

TOS is a condition characterized by pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in your arm or hand caused by compression or pressure of nerves or blood vessels. The nerves that go to your arm and hand come out of the spine at your neck and pass through an area called the thoracic outlet. The thoracic outlet is an area bordered by your first rib, shoulder blade and collarbone. Attaching to these bones are several muscles which help to control movements of your neck and shoulder. These bones and muscles form a “tunnel” (the thoracic outlet) for your nerves, arteries and veins to pass through. If this outlet becomes narrowed, these structures can become compressed and contribute to the above symptoms.

What causes TOS?

Several factors can contribute to TOS and common causes include:

  • Repeated over-head motions
  • Poor body mechanics or posture
  • Muscle tension
  • Whiplash injuries
  • Alignment dysfunction (i.e. tilted or rotated shoulder blade, elevated first rib)

The good news?

TOS can be treated with physical therapy as the first line of treatment! Your physical therapist will perform an examination to assess your strength, range of motion, neural tension, posture and body mechanics. Typical treatment will include therapeutic exercises to address muscle imbalances, manual therapy to address alignment dysfunction and to decrease muscle/neural tension, modalities for pain relief, and a home exercise program to allow you to decrease symptoms and to keep them from coming back!

What can I do right now?

  • Adjust your work station: If you work at a desk, ensure your feet are supported and your work surface is at a height you can reach when your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. You should not feel you shoulders “shrugging” or tension in your neck while you are working.
  • Shoulder Squeezes: While sitting or standing, squeeze your shoulder-blades down and back as if trying to pinch something between them in the middle of your back. Keep your shoulders down! Again, you should not feel your shoulders “shrugging” or tension in your neck. Hold this for 5 seconds and repeat 10 repetitions. Look in a mirror to make sure your shoulders aren’t shrugging up!
  • Doorway Pec Stretch: Stand in a lunge position through a doorway. Place your forearms on the door frame as if making a “W” with your arms. Gently lean forward onto your front foot until you feel a stretch across the front of your shoulders. Hold 30 seconds and perform 3 times. (Note: keep your weight through your feet, do not “hang” on your arms. Also, if you feel numbness/tingling in your hands/fingers, first try moving you arms down lower; if this does not relieve symptoms, stop this stretch and follow-up with your physical therapist!).

FINALLY- don’t wait when you can get real help NOW!

Call to make an appointment with a physical therapist! At Breakaway Physical Therapy, we are ready to help! Call us to make an appointment with one of our highly skilled physical therapists at 410-721-6333! We look forward to working with you!

Stephanie McKay

Stephanie McKay

Stephanie graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore in 2011 with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy. During PT school, I completed a clinical internship in Women’s Health/Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy which gave me valuable clinical experience and opened my eyes to this much needed and often overlooked area of physical therapy. There are so many conditions/symptoms such as pelvic pain and incontinence which are mistaken for being normal just because they may be common in society, chronic, or attributed to pregnancy/childbirth, however this is not the case at all! I love that I can help my patients return to activities that they enjoy without symptoms. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, as well as exercising and being outside. I am excited to join Breakaway and to be a part of a team where there is focus on patient-centered care. I love to spend one-on-one time with my patients to ensure I am meeting their personal goals and to be able to give my patients the tools that they need so that they can maintain their progress even after discharge from PT.
Stephanie McKay

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