In general, the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome is compression of the nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic outlet, just under your collarbone (clavicle). The cause of the compression varies and can include:

  • Anatomical defects. Inherited defects that are present at birth (congenital) may include an extra rib located above the first rib (cervical rib) or an abnormally tight fibrous band connecting your spine to your rib.
  • Poor posture. Drooping your shoulders or holding your head in a forward position can cause compression in the thoracic outlet area.
  • Trauma. A traumatic event, such as a car accident, can cause internal changes that then compress the nerves in the thoracic outlet. The onset of symptoms related to a traumatic accident often is delayed.
  • Repetitive activity. Doing the same thing repeatedly can, over time, wear on your body's tissue.

    You may notice symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome if your job requires you to repeat a movement continuously, such as typing on a computer, working on an assembly line or lifting things above your head, as you would if you were stocking shelves.

    Athletes, such as baseball pitchers and swimmers, also can develop thoracic outlet syndrome from years of repetitive movements.

  • Pressure on your joints. Obesity can put an undue amount of stress on your joints, as can carrying around an oversized bag or backpack.
  • Pregnancy. Because joints loosen during pregnancy, signs of thoracic outlet syndrome may first appear while you're pregnant.
Aug. 01, 2013

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